‘A devastating blow’: Community worried about healthcare as Kootenai Health makes cuts

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — People are worried about the community’s wellbeing after Kootenai Health announced it’s making cuts to critical healthcare resources in the Inland Northwest.

Kootenai says it’s closing the Addiction Recovery Center and Outpatient Psychiatry Practice. It blames staffing shortages and a lack of funding for the cuts, but some people say there needs to be another solution as the nation grapples with a growing mental health and drug epidemic.

Around a hundred people gathered outside Kootenai Health on Wednesday to express their frustrations with the decision.

“This is just such a devastating blow for our community,” said Hannah Nixon. She’s a local psychologist who is worried about the state of mental health resources because of the closures.

She says this community is in critical need of care that the current system can’t handle by getting rid of the hospital’s programs. Nixon says waitlists are already months-long for certain people, and she fears there could be waitlists around two years, specifically for those without private insurance.

“We know that our region is growing, so a reduction in services can’t be happening,” said Jessica Bonar. She overcame alcohol addiction and is a current recovery member.

Following COVID, new data shows 35 million people could be diagnosed with a behavioral health condition, according to a study from McKinsey & Company.

“As we’re increasing diagnosis, we can’t decrease access to services,” Bonar said.

“We’re in the heart of an opioid epidemic unfortunately, and death rates because of substance abuse are higher than they’ve ever been, so we need to have this resource for this community,” Nixon said.

Because of the high patient load she’s already experiencing, Nixon isn’t sure where she’s going to send patients in crisis.

“I fear that our local emergency rooms are going to be more slammed than they already are. I think our primary care physicians are going to get slammed,” she said. “Who knows what other systems in this community are going to feel the weight of this decision?”

It’s a decision Kootenai Health says it had to make. In a statement, they say:

“Behavioral health programs have been chronically underfunded nationally and state-wide for decades. The Covid-19 pandemic, staffing shortages and subsequent financial hardships have made it more challenging than ever to provide these services.”

Cutting critical services Bonar doesn’t take for granted.

“When it came to alcoholism, I could not stop on my own,” she said. “I tried and I couldn’t, and I needed the help of other people.”

Now she’s worried people will be at risk of never getting the care they need.

“I can’t imagine where they will go. They won’t be able to stay in their own community and get the help they need,” Bonar concluded.

The hospital also says while they may agree with protesting the closures, people need to take rallies to Boise and Washington D.C. Kootenai claims change can only come with legislative and voter support.