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NIHD reviews another pandemic year, remains focused on future

  • Category: NIHD News
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  • Written By: Barbara Laughon
NIHD reviews another pandemic year, remains focused on future

New leaders move on from old wounds, keep long-term sustainability on target

For Northern Inyo Healthcare District, 2021 was a year of vaccines, milestones, and pressing through another pandemic year. Despite the challenges, NIHD’s newest Executive Team remains focused on providing quality healthcare for generations to come.

In her fourth month as NIHD’s permanent Chief Executive Officer, Kelli Davis will tell you her goal is to set the District up for long-term sustainability through unity and awareness. “It boils down to wanting the best for our community,” Davis says. “In my opinion, the best regional healthcare is right here on our campus. Do we have every specialist ever needed? No. Can we realistically meet every patient’s highest expectation? No, but we try our best every day because we want to be your provider of choice, your partner in our community’s wellness.”

Davis smiles, realizing the complicating factors in her words. She freely admits recent successes and one misstep fuel the fire in her belly. “We marked two anniversaries last fall -- the 75th of the District and the 20th of the Rural Health Clinic,” Davis explains. “With COVID still a presence, we had to re-frame our celebration to meet pandemic limits. Still, we honored our team with special meals, team jackets, and the recognition that now more than ever what they do means so much.”

COVID-19 remains a constant presence at the District: staff in masks, social distancing signs everywhere one turns, visitation limitations in place. Throughout each week, NIHD’s Incident Command team members, led by Chief Nursing Officer Allison Partridge, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joy Engblade, and RHC Dr. Stacey Brown, meet with partners from the County of Inyo, Toiyabe Indian Health Project, Bishop Care Center, and Southern Inyo Healthcare District.

The group supports one another and works through the day’s issues. In the first weeks of the pandemic, the RHC established one of Inyo’s first drive-through testing sites. When the first COVID vaccination required low-temperature storage, only NIHD’s surgery suites had the needed equipment. NIHD offered its facilities without hesitance, allowing the others the time to secure proper storage. NIHD hosted the first vaccine clinics for healthcare workers and first responders in December 2020. The District repeated the move weeks later when the vaccine opened to the public. NIHD’s nursing and provider teams gave their time and talent to County mass vaccination clinics. Permanent on-campus vaccine clinics recently moved to the RHC and the Pediatrics clinic.

“We’ve managed to stay a step or two ahead of the pandemic since it began,” CNO Partridge notes. “The first year saw almost 20 rural hospitals close under the weight of COVID. Then two more in 2021. So far, thanks to the dedication and skill of our teams, and early relief funding, we’ve been able to stand as strong as we can.”

Dr. Engblade agrees, congratulating the NIHD team on keeping pace. “None of this has been easy, Dr. Engblade says. “As we continue to see patients and serve our community, our focus with COVID is to learn about the disease so we can learn how to prevent it and fight it. Our united goal is to keep our community and our families free of disease and disability. In this political landscape, it’s important to remember that despite differences of opinion, have one united goal. We all care deeply about our loved ones and our community.”

Davis agrees, hailing NIHD’s hospitalist team, the members of the Eastern Sierra Emergency Physicians, and all of the clinic physicians for choosing to make Bishop and the surrounding areas their home. “These doctors could have established careers and made their homes anywhere, but they chose to live here,” Davis says. “They are our neighbors, our friends, and a part of this community. I am grateful for their commitment to those who seek care at NIHD.”

Davis notes other 2021 successes, including the grand re-opening of the school-based Bronco health clinic at Bishop Union High School, the implementation of the Cerner electronic health record, and the further development of the District’s Strategic Plan. Under the direction of Davis and Chief Financial Officer Vinay Behl, the Executive Team further developed a Return on Investment strategy team to assess any growth or expansion opportunities. The year ended with a successful union bargaining agreement, a refunding of the District’s bond debt, and a positive audit of the District’s finances. All this assured the Executive Team that their initial pandemic steps paid off.

“We have great opportunity before us,” CFO Behl says. “With good vision, steady guidance, and a strong united effort, we can grow to meet the community needs. We understand our cadence must be in step with our partners and the area’s residents. This support is critical and can be as simple as making an appointment in the clinics or choosing us for elective surgery.”

Upcoming NIHD physical projects include expanding the in-house Pharmacy, replacing surgery suite flooring, or one day constructing a new building to house all the outpatient clinics. Davis looks forward to furthering NIHD’s ongoing commitment to its employee and provider satisfaction and engagement, expanding the highly successful CAREshuttle transportation program, and further staff development opportunities.

Davis credits the NIHD Board of Directors for remaining in touch with the community during a time when teleconference meetings have ruled the world. “Each member recognizes the needs of the District and prioritizes the health and wellness of their neighbors,” Davis says. “It’s not an easy job to do, especially during a surge in virus cases, but they work hard to understand the importance of sustaining the District and protecting its providers and employees.”

And the misstep that sits wrong with Davis? It is the issue with Southern Mono Healthcare District (Mammoth), but not for the reasons you think.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” she explains. “First wrong, SMHD did not honor the regulatory guidelines for coming into another District. They were required to get approval from the Inyo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), and they didn’t. The second wrong is on us. NIHD wanted to hold SMHD accountable for not getting permission many years afterward.”

Shaking her head, Davis pauses. “Now, here we are in a global pandemic, with new leadership in both Districts, and many other issues that need our attention,” Davis says. “We are wasting time and resources arguing over an antiquated issue in hopes of assigning blame and expecting professionals to accept responsibility and come to the table to do the right thing for the right reasons. Sadly, this comes years after millions of dollars were taken out of our county by SMHD. Dollars that could have benefited our taxpayers and their collective health.”

Davis notes that NIHD has walked a mile in the proverbial SMHD shoes. “Last year, we were working with Southern Inyo Healthcare District (Lone Pine) to provide services there,” Davis recalls. “The difference is we chose a different path; the compliant and neighborly path. We did what was asked of us, and still, in the end, it did not work out. Do I consider us a loser? No, I don’t because we chose the correct path; we did the right thing. Timing and resources just weren’t right. I will always be proud of that decision. Other opportunities will arise, and most importantly our valued partnership with SIHD remains intact.”

Partnerships are essential to Davis. “I value knowing that I can pick up the phone and reach out to SIHD CEO Peter Spiers, or Toiyabe’s CEO Joe Herman, or Bishop Care Center Administrator Todd Stewart and we support one another, go through the proper processes, and we hold ourselves accountable,” Davis says. “It’s what I would expect of a leader, and I hope it’s what our community expects of me.”

NIHD has been here for generations, serving thousands of people through all seasons of their lives. Davis, a fourth-generation Owens Valley resident, intends to focus on that service. “It’s why we were voted into existence 75 years ago,” she says. “It’s what means the most to those who call the Owens Valley home.”

PHOTO: NIHD CEO Kelli Davis leads the Executive Team through a strategic planning session last fall. Photo by Barbara Laughon/Northern Inyo Healthcare District.