Healthy Conversations

Healthy Conversations with Saint Alphonsus

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Four Years of Serving Together as a Health System

AnniversaryApril 1, 2014 marked the four-year anniversary of our four hospitals and Saint Alphonsus Medical Group coming together to form Saint Alphonsus Health System.  As I reflect over these past years, I am proud of how we have matured into our new mission of being a compassionate and transforming healing presence within our communities.  Through new services, enhanced facilities, and with all of us serving together, we are improving the quality and access for those we serve.

There is no doubt that we are being challenged by the many transitions in healthcare.  As our industry is faced with the demand in how we operate and what we deliver, I am confident we are transforming in a positive way to meet the needs of our patients and communities.   Our impressive successes and roll-out of a number of initiatives this past year is proof of that.  To name a few, some of those of which I am most proud of include:

It is a wonderful coincidence that Saint Alphonsus Health System’s anniversary and Easter fall so close together.  This is certainly a time for us to celebrate and give thanks to all who have helped welcome newborns to begin their lives, those who comfort and support the families of our patients, and to all who care for those who need our skills to help them heal from illness and injury.

So please allow me to express my gratitude and appreciation by wishing you all “Happy Anniversary” and a wonderful Easter!

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Letters from Patients and Families

Working on the front lines in health care can be challenging.  I know first-hand, as I too worked as a nurse for a number of years some time ago.  Working in a healthcare setting tests our patience, our emotional strength, and our confidence.  Sometimes, when there’s a tough day, we wonder why we do it.

But then we remember the patients.  We remember the sDSC_1145miles, the laughs, and the gratitude that we feel when someone is healing.  We remember how the little actions that we do every day can make a world of difference for those in need of care. We remember the letters and notes we receive from our patients that express their gratitude for their nurse, their doctor, and the other people at Saint Alphonsus that made their healing experience better.

I would like to share with you some snippets of the thank-you notes we have received recently from our patients and their families.  They express how our people at Saint Alphonsus make lasting impressions on them.

Here are a few highlights:

“We just wanted you to know how much we appreciate you for your integrity and going the extra mile on our behalf.  Thank you for employing such caring people who will reach out to help anyone in need.”

“A little over 18 months ago I was admitted to your outstanding hospital with a very serious condition.  Instead of dying, I’ve just recently enjoyed the birth of my 3rd grandson!”

“When all the test results were in, I knew that my daughter was not going to recover.  In your hospital, you treated a dying patient with hope as if she would live.  I asked to take her home, and the staff worked to make it possible.  I got to cuddle my daughter in my arms one last time.”

“From the moment I entered the clinic, everyone was professional, concerned, polite, and very helpful.  My care far exceeded my expectations and I will be sure to refer others to the clinic in the future.”

“Just outstanding!”

“I’ve had three kids at Saint Al’s, both were c-sections, and my nurse was phenomenal.  When my friends tell me that they are having a baby at Saint Al’s, I tell them to ask for my nurse.  I feel like I made new friends and I miss them already.”

“You did a superior job taking care of my mother.  You went above and beyond to make sure my mom received the best care that day.”

“A great job by all!”

“You took the time to listen to my concerns and did so in the most professional way, leaving me with a very good impression.”

“I have experienced excellent care from multiple clerks, technicians, and professionals who administer tests and imaging studies.  I know I am in a quality facility when janitorial staff help me find my designation without being asked.”

These comments are only a few among the numerous patient letters we receive on a regular basis.  I’m proud of the effort by everyone at Saint Alphonsus in creating the best experience possible for our patients and their families.

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The Health Care Choice

The recent changes in health care have resulted in some employers changing the way they offer health care to their employees.  In some instances, it’s become harder to find the perfect plan, and things like “health risk assessments” and “premium increases” have become very familiar terms.

Fortunately, one of the choices that’s being offered by some employers is something called the Patient Centered Medical Home – or PCMH for short.  I have invited Dr. Steven D. Brown, our Chief Medical Officer, to talk a little more about this new approach to healthcare, and how it can benefit you.  Here’s what he had to say.

“Imagine that your employeBrown Steven- CMO_croppedr has given you a choice:  either get a primary care doctor and complete a health risk assessment, or face a 30% increase in your insurance premiums.    A 30% increase on premiums could, for many, be a significant chunk of change.  On the other hand, you’d like to be able to go to the doctor when you want, and where you want.  So which choice do you make?  What’s best for you and your family?

These choices are increasingly common with employers as they change the health insurance plans they offer to employees to reduce cost while improving the health of their staff.  Studies have shown that those who have a regular primary care doctor and participate in wellness activities have lower health care costs.  With many employers facing the harsh reality of cost cutting, they are being forced to control healthcare costs, or start cutting elsewhere – with employees, raises, or other benefits.

Some of the new plans offered by employers include Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMH).  For some, hearing “Medical Home” conjures an unappealing nursing home vision.  On the contrary – these PCMHs are simply a different approach to health care, rather than a physical “home.”  So what’s the difference between the insurance plan you may have now and on that includes a PCMH?  With the PCMH plans, patients are offered the benefits of a patient centered, team based approach.  But what exactly does that mean?

Patient centered health care is more proactive, rather than reactive.  In more traditional models of health care, patients sought care only when they were sick.  In the PCMH, health plans work with patients to maintain wellness activities such as immunizations, mammography, Pap smears, blood pressure checks and other preventative exams.  Think of it as a pre-emptive strike against health problems down the road. 

The PCMH allows patients to access more care in different ways, as well.  In addition to clinics extending their open hours, patients can also communicate with their clinic electronically and see their records online, all securely through the Internet.  Plus, the team-based approach means patients have a whole team – not just one doctor – looking after them.

Liken the PCMH plan to a sports team – running practiced plays, coordinating positions, maximizing efficiency, and working as a team to win the game.  The patient is a part of the “health care team” in a PCMH; understanding their options, having medical information available, and being expected to do their part in maintaining wellness. 

As health care change accelerates, so does the difficulty in navigating some of the choices offered and the benefits you can receive.  The PCMH will offer an alternative to the traditional role of fragmented medical records, doctors, specialists, and appointments.  Instead, your experience will become more seamless than ever, and give you the resources to reach your best health.

At Saint Alphonsus, we have three PCMH clinics within our Medical Group:  Eagle Health Plaza, McMillan Clinic, and the Overland Clinic.  With their experienced staff of doctors, they carefully monitor wellness and chronic disease programs for about 27,000 patients.  Additionally, Saint Alphonsus is planning to convert all its primary care clinics to PCMHs in the next two years as it works with employers and insurers.  We’ve made the investment in training, electronic systems and staffing to make your care as efficient and effective as possible.  We’re dedicated to improving the value of your care, meaning better quality at a lower cost.”

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Childhood Obesity in Idaho

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Steven Kelder to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center for the fourth installment of the Healthcare Roundtable.  Dr. Kelder, a professor and researcher at the University of Texas, is an expert in the field of childhood obesity prevention.  His work has been featured on the HBO documentary, Weight of the Nation, and his knowledge and insight of the future of our nation’s health is astounding.  He presented some compelling and concerning information about the current state of childhood obesity in America.

For instance:

  • 37% of adults are pre-diabetic.DSC_0588
  • America spends over $190 billion each year on obesity-related illness.
  • 34% of all American kids are overweight.
  • 75% of young Americans are ineligible to join the
  • military
    because they are too overweight.
  • Kids are only getting 1.3 minutes per school day of nutrition education – the necessary minimum is 8.3.
  • Students on a proper diet and exercise program perform better in school.
  • Around 1 in 10 Idaho students are obese.

These figures tell us that we need to do more about the childhood obesity epidemic; to think of creative ways that get students active and educated about nutrition.  The High Five Children’s Health Collaborative powered by the Blue Cross of Idaho, along with Saint Alphonsus, teamed up to get started on the problem last year.  We introduced GoNoodle, an interactive classroom brain break activity designed to get kids up and moving right at their desks.  Thus far, the program has logged nearly 1,000,000 minutes of student activity, and continues to grow.

We’re committed to combating childhood obesity – and you can be, too.  We all can think about everyday solutions to help.  Make your voice heard at school board meetings.  Teach your children about proper diet and exercise.  Organize activities that promote being outside.  Take a walk with your family.  These simple actions can create a big difference for the future of our children’s health, and the future of Idaho.

Thanks to Dr. Kelder for his presentation, and thanks to all that attended.

Click here to download Dr. Kelder’s PowerPoint Presentation from the Healthcare Roundtable Event.

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Helping People: It’s What We Do

Prevention and wellness have always been important components of health care for Saint Alphonsus.  One of the ways we provide this service to people in the areas we operate is through free screenings, health fairs and seminars.

These events allow individuals to visit with providers to be screened for potential problems. Whether it is diabetes, bone density, skin cancer, or others, catching problems early often results in better outcomes.  Even if a disease isn’t present, if indicators are found that show it could develop into a problem in the future, we can help the person through health education, diet and exercise, or other appropriate programs.

As a not-for-profit health care provider we invest our resources back into the communities we serve to increase positive health outcomes.  I hope you take advantage of these upcoming free screenings and activities we are providing in the coming months near you.


12        Nutrition Education Series – Heart Health 101
Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, Ontario
12 – 1 PM in the Snake River Conference Room.

14        Screening & Lecture by Dr. Badke, “Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack”
Cascade Medical Center in Cascade
Screening will be a blood draw with information on lipids and BMI, along with blood pressure. 7 – 10 AM.

16        Mammography screening at the Hispanic Expo
Nampa Civic Center
11AM – 3 PM in the Saint Alphonsus Mobile Health Screening Coach (the Pink Motorhome)

19        Nutrition Education Series – Tips and Tricks to Exercising  
Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, Ontario
12 – 1 PM in the Snake River Conference Room.

26        Nutrition Education Series – Tips & Tricks to Reading Food Labels
Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, Ontario
1 – 2 PM in the Snake River Conference Room.

27        Healthy Me Series – “Are You a High Risk Pregnancy?” by Dr. James Betoni 
Saint Alphonsus Birkeland Maternity Center, Nampa
6:00 PM.  RSVP at 463-5872 or online at Or text a general question to BABIES to 88000.


12        Mammography, bone density, blood pressure, balance testing and BMI screening
Fruitland Health Plaza Health Fair, 910 NW 16th Street, Fruitland
10 AM – 2 PM

14        Healthy Me Series – “Pregnancy and You” by Dr. Guillermo Guzman
6:00 PM at Saint Alphonsus Birkeland Maternity Center, Nampa
RSVP at 463-5872 or online at Or text a general question to BABIES at 88000.

16        Educational seminar on Joint Care
Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Nampa, 1512 N. 12th Avenue
6:30 – 7:30 PM in the Spring & Summer Conference rooms. RSVP required for dinner and seminar at 367-7355 or online at

19        Mammography screening at the Hispanic Health Fair at the Hispanic Cultural Center
From 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM in the Saint Alphonsus Mobile Health Screening Coach (Pink Motorhome)

23        Mammography and bone density screening
At the Information Fair at the O’Conner Field House in Caldwell
All day in the Saint Alphonsus Mobile Health Screening Coach (Pink Motorhome)

24        Healthy Me Series – “Women’s Health Mid-Life” by Dr. Rebecca McCaffrey
Mulvaney Building, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, 1072 N. Liberty, Boise. 
6:00 PM.  RSVP online at

26        Skin cancer screening
Saint Alphonsus Cancer Care Center, 1055 N. Curtis Road, Boise.
8 AM – Noon. Screening is free but requires pre-registration. Call 367-4220 or online at to register.


7          Mammography and bone density screening
Boise State University Health Fair
All day in the Mobile Health Screening Coach (Pink Motorhome)

14        Healthy Me Series – “Gynecology: Minimally Invasive Surgery Options” by Dr. Mary Janowiak and Dr. Jon Kattenhorn
Mulvaney Building, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, 1072 N. Liberty, Boise
6:00 PM.  RSVP online at

17        Mammography and bone density screening at Fiesta de Mayo in Caldwell
All day in the Mobile Health Screening Coach (Pink Motorhome)

31        7th Annual Arthritis Symposium
Saint Alphonsus McCleary Auditorium, 1055 N. Curtis Road, Boise
9:30 AM – 1 PM. RSVP required at 367-4220.

31        Neuroscience Grand Opening and Screening
Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, 1055 N. Curtis Road, Boise 
This all-day screening will be a blood draw with information on lipids and BMI, along with blood pressure. Call 367-4220 for more specific time information.

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Honoring Our Sisters and Their Contributions to the Healing Ministry

The inaugural National Catholic Sisters Week kicks off March 8 and offers a wonderful opportunity to honor the work of sisters who have made such a difference in the lives of so many people and communities.

We recognize our Catholic sisters who responded to the needs of people by traveling to the frontier in Idaho and Oregon.  They laid the foundation of our current health care in Idaho and Oregon – with the establishment of hospitals in Baker City, Boise, Nampa, and Ontario.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were serving the poor, when five Franciscan sisters left Philadelphia by train in 1885 for Baker City, Oregon.  Twelve years later, after remodeling the St. Francis Academy, a new hospital was dedicated on November 21, 1897.

A priest from the Baker Diocese, Father Peter Bowe, was commissioned by Bishop O’Reilly to find more sisters willing to work in Oregon.  He reached Ireland just as six Dominican sisters arrived from Portugal, having been expelled by the revolution that began in 1910.

The six sisters and one postulant headed to Oregon to open a school. What they found when they arrived in Ontario was the need for a hospital.  With no background in medical care, they traveled by twos and threes to Pendleton to learn about nursing, and the finer points of running a hospital.  They tirelessly collected supplies and donations; 13 months later, they opened a hospital on the edge of town.

In 1841, the Sisters of Mercy left Dublin, Ireland for America, and founded schools, hospitals and orphanages.  Known as “walking sisters” and responding to requests for assistance, some came to Nampa.  Without training, facilities or money, they relied on God to provide health care to those in need.  After 2 ½ years of living in tents and with a small house serving as the hospital with six patient rooms, the first hospital in Nampa was built.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross came to Boise in 1889 at the invitation of Bishop Glorieux for the purpose of starting a school.  As the burgeoning frontier city grew, the sisters started Saint Alphonsus in 1894 to meet the medical needs of the community.

The ministry the sisters initiated in the region continues today at Saint Alphonsus.  Our mission statement, “We serve together in the spirit of the Gospel as a compassionate and transforming healing presence in our communities,” is a continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus they started by caring for the sick and the poor.

We are so grateful for their obedience, faithfulness, and compassion. It is that same ministry which drives us today.  Despite the challenges faced back then and with different challenges today, we still move forward with the same sense of purpose and resolution as did the sisters.  We at Saint Alphonsus recognize their wonderful contributions and carry on God’s call to them to this very day.


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Nonprofit Health Systems Produce Value for Our Communities

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article for the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine about what it means to be a nonprofit healthcare provider.  As a Catholic healthcare organization, we have a high standard for meeting the needs of the communities we serve.  I hope this gives you a better understanding of what we do as a nonprofit health system:

Over the past few years, nonprofit health care organizations nationwide have been under scrutiny regarding whether their tax exemptions are justified. As a faith-based, nonprofit health system, Saint Alphonsus takes the responsibility of our nonprofit status very seriously.

Saint Alphonsus works singularly and collaboratively to improve the overall health in the communities we serve by reinvesting excess revenues (or “profits”) back into those communities — through new technologies, vital health services, and access for all. If we were a for-profit entity, these profits would more likely be divided up and go into investors’ pockets.

When contrasting nonprofit versus for-profit health care systems, it is important to note some key distinctions.

Nonprofit health care serves as a critical safety net for the community, offering programs and resources to help the poor and vulnerable among us and addressing some of society’s most troubling social problems: mental health, substance abuse, access to care, provider shortages, disparities in care and more.

In nonprofit health care, we are accountable by federal law to conduct community health needs assessments every three years and develop implementation plans addressing the highest priority needs. This requirement has helped spur collaboration among competing nonprofit health care providers in our community, whereas for-profit providers have no such accountability to collaborate for the good of the community.

For example, these community needs assessments have identified mental health issues as a consistent priority in our region. Internally, we have responded by providing in-patient and out-patient psychiatric care. Externally, we have collaborated in establishing the Allumbaugh House, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline and the Idaho Psychiatric Residency to train more psychiatrists.

Our Community Benefit Ministry is part of the fabric of our mission — a faith-based imperative that has endured since the pioneering Sisters of the Holy Cross opened the first Saint Alphonsus Hospital in Boise in 1894. While federal law has only recently dictated community needs assessments, Saint Alphonsus has been doing community needs assessments and strategically addressing community needs for many years.

While it might be perceived that nonprofit health care organizations are exempt from all taxes, that is not the case. We pay property taxes on 35 percent of the properties we own, contributing $627,000 in Idaho property taxes in 2013. We also paid $178,000 in sales tax.

In addition, nonprofit health care organizations serve as major economic drivers and job creators. For our Idaho facilities alone, Saint Alphonsus employs more than 4,600 people, paid wages in excess of $259 million in 2013, and paid more than $11 million in Idaho income taxes.

Our local nonprofit health systems compete in the marketplace, and some people think nonprofits should not compete. But our local communities benefit from having two strong health systems that drive each other to innovate and improve. In a marketplace with only one hospital, consumers would have no choice for comparing cost or quality.

When it comes to innovating and transforming health care without leaving the most vulnerable citizens behind — if not for nonprofit health care, then what?

To see this article in the Idaho Statesman, click here.

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Health Reform That Preserves Choice and Competition

At Saint Alphonsus, we have endeavored to maintain a respectful approach to communications regarding the antitrust lawsuit filed in 2012 against St. Luke’s concerning its acquisition of Saltzer Medical Group.  This case was a matter for U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to decide based on the facts and state and federal antitrust laws.  We are pleased with the decision.

As the first hospital established in Boise 120 years ago by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Saint Alphonsus Health System today continues to be faithful stewards of the same mission to improve the health of our communities and provide healing and hope for patients. We serve everyone regardless of religious affiliation or economic circumstances. We continue to advance our mission with guidance from our local boards and leaders, as well as with support from a national faith-based system.

That is why in 2011 we launched a major physician-led effort to advance the delivery of health care in Idaho through what is called clinical integration. Our goal is to move from “volume to value.”  This patient-centered strategy is not unique to the Treasure Valley; it is occurring around the country in health systems that share our commitment to achieve better health and care at reduced costs.

To support this goal, we created the Saint Alphonsus Health Alliance. This physician-led group of both independent and hospital-employed providers is designed to deliver quality, coordinated care at lower costs. With over 1,300 local clinicians – more than 75% of them in independent practices – we are bringing about innovation and change while preserving patient choice and competition.

Being on the leading edge of change is not new for us. Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise was the first non-government hospital in Idaho to be recognized for its electronic health records system. All Saint Alphonsus hospitals and primary care practices use the system. So when you need a specialist, all of your medical records move with you, reducing unnecessary testing and costs. This system was developed at half the cost of other systems installed in Idaho today.

But the change we’re driving is more than electronic health records. Together, Saint Alphonsus and independent Alliance physicians are creating tools that allow doctors to integrate the care their patients receive, regardless of the information system they use. The Alliance also contracts with major insurance carriers that establish both requirements and incentives for high quality care.

We are all working together to find the best way to provide the care our patients need for their specific diseases and conditions;  and we’re investing in wellness and prevention initiatives to keep you healthier and out of the hospital – the most expensive place to receive care.

While we are proud of our efforts thus far, we will never stop improving. You will be hearing more from us and our health alliance partners as we continue to advance care that works for you. Our commitment to the 120-year mission of Saint Alphonsus – and to our communities – has never been stronger as we strive to be your trusted health partner for life.

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Canyon County’s Newest Addition

A few years ago, we took an in-depth look at what the people of Canyon County needed to improve their healthcare experience.  We talked to first-time mothers who wanted a shorter drive when they visit their obstetrician.  We talked with the people who needed advanced heart care, but wanted to stay close to their families and friends in Nampa.  The response was overwhelmingly clear – the people of Canyon County wanted more expansive services, closer to their homes.

Birkeland 7After much thought and reflection, it was decided that Saint Alphonsus would provide Canyon County with a state-of-the-art heart center and a world-class maternity center, using a combination of the most advanced technology in the industry and proven perinatal safe care delivery.  These new high-tech centers could offer advanced services that would otherwise require Canyon residents to drive all the way to Boise.

DSC_0135We knew exactly who we would name the maternity center after, too.  Dr. Fred Birkeland was an inspiration to everyone he treated – and for many, was responsible for delivering a loved one into the world.  So began the planning and construction of the Birkeland Maternity Center and Heart Center at the Nampa Health Plaza.

Fast forward three years, and this beautiful new facility has come to life.  With amenities like plush inpatient rooms, in-room catering, massage service, new baby classes, jetted tubs, and more, it provides patients with the most comfortable healthcare experience possible.  But not only will this building provide comfort, but it also provides necessary life-saving services – like the closest catheterization lab to I-84, nuclear medicine, and Canyon County’s first and only neonatal intensive care unit.

DSC_0154We are thrilled to open the doors of the Heart Center and Birkeland Maternity Center at Saint Alphonsus I-84 & Garrity to such a wonderful and supportive community.  And to the people that made it all possible, your hard work and graciousness will live on to serve thousands of patients; from the newborn to the heart patient, your contribution will touch the lives of many.

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To You and Yours – Happy Holidays

Christmas tree branches with red ballsThe Christmas season provides a wonderful opportunity for me to express my good wishes to you and your loved ones.  Serving our communities across southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon is truly a privilege of all Saint Alphonsus Health System colleagues, and we are honored that many of you have chosen us for your own care, or the care of your loved ones.

As we celebrate the event which is the foundation of the Saint Alphonsus faith-based ministry, the birth of Jesus, we want to pause and say thank you to our communities.  Thank you for allowing us to be here to care for you.

As you celebrate the holiday season with family and friends, my desire is that the joy of the season fills your heart with love and that 2014 will be a year of health and happiness for you and your family.