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North Idaho public health agency phases out home health program

Idaho Panhandle Health District logo
Courtesy of Idaho Panhandle Health District
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The director cites a shortage of qualified personnel.

For more than 50 years, Idaho’s Panhandle Health District has sent nurses, therapists and other health providers to provide services in people’s homes.

“An example might be someone who has had a hip replacement and they’re able to be discharged a little earlier from the hospital if someone from home health services will be able to go into their home, help them do therapy and other medical treatments all within the walls of their own home," said IPHD Director Don Duffy.

No longer. Duffy says the health district will end its home health program this fall. The reason? He can’t find enough qualified people to do the work.

“Every health care facility, from a doctor’s office to a hospital, are experiencing this challenge. We are definitely experiencing that challenge and that’s what led to the decision. If we have the staff that we needed at the price that we could pay for them, we would definitely continue this program and we’ve been working for over a year-and-a-half to find the staff that we need and have been unsuccessful doing so," he said.

Duffy says the health district has stopped accepting new patients for the program and begin transferring its current clients to private providers, a process he says may take two months.

“We have a group of very talented, dedicated and compassionate staff that we’re going to have to say goodbye to and that’s very, very difficult, although we’re grateful that we’re in an economy where all of them, I’m very confident, will soon find the employment that they need. But that’s always a difficult task when you’ve got a task so dedicated and seeing them off," he said.

Duffy says 10 staff members will lose their jobs. Two others will be transferred to other programs within the health district. He says the district will move the money it saves to its core programs.

He says it's hard to end a service that has long benefited people in the most rural parts of the Panhandle.

“It certainly has had great benefit to the community, but unusual for a public health agency to have a home health department," Duffy said.