CdA’s Dirne Clinic reveals new services, name change

Just three months after losing its beloved founder, Dirne Community Health Center offered a glimpse of its future today – expanded services, a wider reach, greater emphasis on prevention and a new name, Legacy Health.

The nonprofit care provider in Kootenai County is growing to meet surging demand for its services while adapting to rapid change, CEO Mike Baker said.

“We are done supporting the antiquated healthcare practices that focus more on treating disease than preventing them,” Baker said. “We will no longer stand around waiting for someone to make changes for us. We know what needs to be done, and we’re doing it.”

That includes adding a pediatric care team with a special focus on teenagers; offering comprehensive physical therapy services; establishing a satellite clinic in Rathdrum; and building a new dental clinic at its main clinic off North Lakewood Drive.

One of the biggest additions was hard to miss at this morning’s announcement. Serving as the event’s backdrop, a $360,000 mobile clinic for schools will be put into service soon in the Lakeland School District.

Purchased with a grant from the Bureau of Primary Health Care, the bus will park at Lakeland schools and treat students, school staff and community members.

“In a rural portion of our county, certainly having access like this is going to be incredible,” Baker said. “It really is just there to serve anybody that wants to access it.”

Legacy served 15,000 patients and handled 50,000 clinic visits last year. It uses revenue from treating insured patients to provide care for uninsured people. That subsidy totaled almost $4 million in 2012.

Lidwina Dirne sowed the seed for the organization nearly 30 years ago when she started a free clinic staffed by volunteers and supported by donations. It grew to provide pediatric, adult and geriatric care, including for hundreds who are homeless.

Dirne died June 10 at age 97, and her contributions were praised Monday by speakers who choked up at her memory.

“She was a remarkable presence,” said Dr. Joseph Abate, Legacy’s chief medical officer. “Her motto was ‘never give up,’ and she started this clinic almost 30 years ago simply because a neighbor did not have access to affordable health care.

“She did it not because she thought there would be a bus here, not because she thought there would be a gigantic clinic behind it, not because she thought that we would be serving 15,000 patients a year. She did it because there was one person in need and she did it because it was the right thing to do. That spirit lives on in Legacy Health.”

The board of directors approved the name change before Dirne’s death, and this fall Legacy will rededicate its main clinic the Lidwina Dirne Medical Clinic.

Board Chairman Len Crosby said the board wrestled with the name change for about two years with input from Dirne herself.

“The first several names we brought up, she did not like at all,” Crosby said. “In fact she made herself very vocal in telling us she did not like them. But when we came up with this name, she loved it. She felt it honored all of the people that she’d worked with 30 years ago to start this as a free clinic for people in need in our community.”

The new name also speaks to how the organization evolves, he said.

“We also felt like this name change was appropriate at this time because all of us who are involved in the medical community are standing on quicksand,” Crosby said. “We have no idea what the future is going to look like. Ever day brings a new change or a new interpretation of what we thought we understood.”

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