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Dirne clinic expanding elder care


Dr. Sid Titus, left, takes Holly Abey's blood pressure in an exam room at the Dirne Community Health Center in Coeur d'Alene, which is planning to start up at clinic just for geriatric patients. 
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Dr. Sid Titus, left, takes Holly Abey's blood pressure in an exam room at the Dirne Community Health Center in Coeur d'Alene, which is planning to start up at clinic just for geriatric patients. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Gretchen Scoles spent a frustrating six months searching for a primary care physician who would take Medicare payments.

Her daughter’s doctor rejected her, and clinic after clinic in Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden turned down her requests for an appointment. Scoles finally found Dirne Community Health Center in Coeur d’Alene, where the 67-year-old retired career counselor was able to schedule a physical last fall.

“It was real discouraging,” Scoles said of her search. “I was starting to feel like one of those untouchables in India. No one would take me.”

Stories like Scoles’ are prompting the nonprofit Dirne Center to open a new health clinic aimed at elder care. The SAGE Center will open in January at 916 Ironwood Drive, next door to Dirne’s main clinic.

Patients with federally funded Medicare insurance are welcome.

“The geriatric needs in this community are tremendous,” said Joel Hughes, Dirne’s chief executive officer. Medicare patients often have trouble finding a primary doctor for regular checkups, referrals to specialists and routine care.

In Kootenai County, Hughes said, the problem is exacerbated by a shortage of primary care physicians.

The Medicare population – typically those 65 and older – has risen about 40 percent in the last decade, according to census figures. Even patients like Scoles, who have supplemental Blue Cross insurance, are having trouble finding providers.

“That population is struggling, frustrated, and many of them are in dire need of care,” Hughes said.

The “SAGE” in SAGE Center stands for “Successful Aging and Geriatric Evaluations.” In addition to primary care, the center will provide mental health services, help for patients enrolling in the new Medicare Part D pharmacy program, and education and screening programs aimed at older adults. Dirne’s Memory Clinic, a program for assessing memory loss and detecting dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, will become part of the SAGE Center. Long-term plans also include dental care.

Hughes said spinning off a separate center for geriatric patients is a logical step. It allows doctors and nurses to focus on older patients, whose health needs tend to be different from those of the general population, he said.

Donna Austin also likes the idea of sitting in a waiting room populated by other seniors. Fond as she is of children, “it’s kind of nice to go to an area where you don’t have screaming kids,” said the 66-year-old Dirne client, who also sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors.

Austin has been a Dirne client for about eight years. Medicare is her only health insurance. “It’s important, and there’s a big need,” she said of the SAGE Center’s plans to serve seniors.

The SAGE Center will be financed through payments from Medicare and supplemental insurance, Hughes said. He’s in the midst of hiring a physician to staff the center.

The SAGE Center will have the same mission as the Dirne Clinic, which is to serve the uninsured and underserved, Hughes said. The Dirne Clinic is open to all patients. It receives about 43 percent of its budget through a federal grant.

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