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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Memory clinic to move, expand

An informal Coeur d’Alene clinic that has helped hundreds of people understand the root of their memory problems is in such demand that it’s moving into a permanent home and may triple its service.

A doctor, several therapists and social workers became known as Kootenai Medical Center’s memory clinic during the past five years because they analyzed people with fading memories and linked their problems to such sources as medications, dementia and even low oxygen levels.

The group met for four hours each week in KMC’s McGrane Center and saw three or four people each time. Since January, though, demand for their services has skyrocketed. Sixty people are on a waiting list, and KMC doesn’t have room for the program to expand, said Pam Thompson, KMC’s director of social services.

So the Dirne Community Health Clinic has agreed to give the clinic a home and enable it to expand its hours.

“We have a site, and we’re going to grow,” said Thompson. “This is so needed, and there’s nothing else like it in the (Inland) Northwest.”

The clinic’s future was fuzzy until the Dirne Clinic rented office space this month across from KMC at 916 Ironwood Drive. The federally funded Dirne Clinic is the primary source of medical care for Kootenai County residents without health insurance. Its services were divided between two locations about a block apart on Ironwood, and one building offered only basement space with no access for people with disabilities.

This month, the clinic is vacating the basement offices and moving into a former dental building next door to Dirne’s main clinic at 920 Ironwood Ave. Dirne eventually will offer dental services in the new space. It also accepted a request from Carmen Brochu, KMC’s vice president of patient care, to adopt the memory clinic.

“They talked about focusing on the senior element,” Brochu said. “This could be the first service in their senior clinic.”

Joel Hughes, Dirne Clinic administrator, said Dirne and KMC are collaborating on the memory clinic. Dirne will supply space, office staff and a nurse practitioner and will bill Medicare for the services. KMC will contribute the skills of an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. Dr. Susan Melchiore will continue as the doctor on the team. Hughes said he hopes Dirne can offer the memory clinic to the public eight to 12 hours a week starting after July 4.

“There’s such a growing Medicare population in the area that we feel the need for it will be growing,” he said.

The memory clinic will stay at the McGrane Center until July.

The clinic was the brainchild of Melchiore and Dr. James Osmanski. They noticed that fading memories are not a priority of family doctors who face a daily onslaught of more immediate health needs, Thompson said. Memory problems, though, are often obvious to adult children who ask doctors about their parents’ growing failure to remember, she said.

The two doctors, an occupational therapist and a speech therapist created a team to test people with fading memories, discuss their findings and make recommendations to patients’ family doctors. They find memory deficiencies caused by misuse of medications and low oxygen levels. They also find cases of early Alzheimer’s disease.

The clinic, which KMC’s social services manages, wasn’t an overnight success. Thompson said the stigma of Alzheimer’s kept patients away, and family doctors worried they’d lose patients to the memory team.

“Two years into it, I thought we’d go under,” Thompson said.

But primary doctors grew to appreciate the service, and more and more began to refer patients to the informal memory clinic. A waiting list for the service began to grow. Now, the clinic gets referrals from nearly 40 physicians, many of them in Spokane, Thompson said.

Hughes said the memory clinic will benefit Dirne, which has struggled financially since it opened full-time 15 months ago. Since the memory clinic will operate only one to 1 1/2 days a week, Dirne is looking for a doctor of internal medicine who can use the same space to treat seniors, Hughes said. Dirne also applied last month for a grant to start a mental health clinic for seniors in the new building.

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