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Community health center founder dies

Wed., June 12, 2013

Dirne’s clinics in North Idaho serve 15,000 patients annually

Lidwina Dirne, who brought affordable health care to thousands of North Idaho residents during the past three decades, died Monday at age 97.

She was the driving force behind the nonprofit Dirne Community Health Center, which provides pediatric, adult and geriatric care at clinics in Coeur d’Alene and Rathdrum. The center serves 15,000 patients a year, including about 1,700 who are homeless.

“Because of her work and all the people that she influenced, this whole community has a place where they can access health care that’s affordable and high quality, and it’s not corporate medicine. It’s like your neighbor, just taking care of you,” said Mike Baker, CEO of the Dirne center.

“That’s what she instilled in this organization, is that patients come first and we look at their hearts, not their wallets,” Baker said.

Dirne was still involved in the center and attended her last board meeting late last month, he said.

Mary Sibulsky’s family was close to Dirne for decades. Both Dirne and Sibulsky’s parents were from Holland, and Dirne, who never married, was a true mother figure, she said.

“She looked at and treated everybody she knew as if they were the most important person in your life,” Sibulsky said. “If she was a family friend, she always made it seem like your family was the most important.”

The Dirne Community Health Clinic, as it was first named, was largely conceived through Dirne’s pioneering efforts.

In 1984, she met a single mother who developed a chronic medical condition and couldn’t afford to see a doctor. Dirne helped care for the woman, and from that was born the health center, beginning as a free clinic staffed by volunteers and supported by donations, in-kind contributions and pro-bono legal services.

In 2003, it received federal funding to become a federally qualified health center, and the following year it opened as a full-time community health center. With 18 providers on staff, the Dirne center welcomes Medicare, Medicaid, privately insured and uninsured patients. It also offers dental and mental health care.

Dirne was a schoolteacher in her early 20s when she lived in Nazi-occupied Holland. A member of a lay religious order, she emigrated to Canada, where she taught in a mission, then moved to Coeur d’Alene in the early 1970s when she was hired as the first lay religious education coordinator at St. Pius X Catholic Church.

She also led a widows and divorcees support group, and formed the Mustard Seed, a group of women active in volunteer work.

Two years ago, she was honored as grand marshal of the Independence Day American Heroes Parade in Coeur d’Alene.

“Everybody’s mourning the loss of such an amazing lady,” Baker said. “She would have said, ‘Get over me and get out and take care of someone else.’ ”

A public funeral Mass celebrated by Monsignor Andrew Schumacher of the Diocese of Boise will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at St. Pius X, 625 E. Haycraft Ave.

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