County board opens dialogue on Medical Care Facility

MANISTEE COUNTY — Manistee County’s Medical Care Facility means a great deal to many area families, which has been the case for generations.

And as the medical landscape rapidly evolves — locally, nationally and worldwide — the long term future of the county-owned, not-for-profit skilled nursing facility was a topic of discussion on Tuesday during the Manistee County Board of Commissioners’ regular monthly meeting.

While the potential of selling the facility became a talking point, it was simply an option commissioners weighed in on while discussing possible paths for the facility into the future.

“Things are not getting simpler, they are getting more complicated as time goes on,” said board chair Jeff Dontz, referring to the healthcare profession. “This facility is extremely important to the community, and everyone here wants to do what they believe is in the best interest of the community.

“Hopefully this is the start of a dialogue that will improve that facility for the residents of the county.”

Officials from both Manistee County and the Medical Care Facility were recently contacted by Pritok Capital, a private equity group, specializing in the senior care industry, that showed an interest in purchasing the local facility.

The general interest from Pritok Capital sparked a request from Dontz for a letter to be drafted and potentially sent to Munson Healthcare, owners of Manistee’s hospital, which sits adjacent to the Medical Care Facility.

The purpose of the letter was to formally include Munson in talks of a potential sale or affiliation if that indeed becomes a route commissioners choose to pursue in the future, Dontz explained.

“When you’re dealing with a large organization, they don’t want to put a lot of resources out there if there’s no support on the other side,” he said. “This letter is basically saying we’re open to entertaining something, so let’s open some dialogue, even if it never gets to that point.

“At the moment, we don’t know what the future holds. … But if we don’t explore (the options), we’ll never know. It’s nothing more than a toe in the water. … I just don’t want any doors to get closed.”

Passions ran high at times Tuesday as the board reviewed the letter, and commissioners concluded that further discussion and research was necessary before moving forward. A motion to send the letter was never made.

“This board has had absolutely no previous public discussion regarding any possibility of selling our county’s Medical Care,” said commissioner Margaret Batzer. “This is a discussion that potentially has an impact on nearly every resident of our county at some point in their life, whether it is a grandparent, a friend, a parent, sibling, spouse or our own care.

“I agree that there are some issues with the (aging) building, some issues that definitely need to be addressed with the Medical Care, but I don’t believe this is the route to go,” she said. “The public absolutely deserves a transparent and inclusive process, especially when discussing matters that would potentially have such a profound and irreversible impact on the residents of our county.

“We are not discussing the sale of a few acres of vacant land, we’re discussing the long term care of our elders, our loved ones, our family and our friends. … Before we explore any option of selling the facility, we need to provide public forums, gather public input: what does the public want to see with the facility, what they would like to see improved, what options are they open to?”

The board agreed to not only continue the dialogue on the Medical Care Facility but include the public as much as possible in the process. Ultimately, an ad hoc committee was formed Tuesday — consisting of commissioners Dontz, Batzer and Karen Goodman — for the purpose of formulating a plan moving forward, which may include community forums and surveys.

“That building has been rock solid for us, but some of it’s antiquated,” Goodman said. “I think there’s layers to this: First, we have to have this conversation with the community in order to make any good, clear path for future choices or decisions.

“I don’t even want to use the word ‘consider’ (regarding a sale of the building); I’d like to see us ‘investigate’ or ‘communicate’ the pros and cons of this issue with the community.”

Commissioners Pauline Jaquish and Brook Shafer both suggested a potential millage increase for the Medical Care Facility should be part of the ongoing dialogue as well.

“This facility is an asset of county residents, not just the ones on this county board,” Shafer said.

Joe Coleman, Manistee County Medical Care Facility administrator, and Renee Beniak, president of the Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council, were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Beniak told the board she’s willing to participate in further dialogue and will be able to provide information on like-county medical care facilities facilities, regional and statewide.

The Manistee County Medical Care Facility has 100 licensed beds and provides complete skilled nursing care, including comprehensive short-term rehabilitation services.

Established in 1868 as the County Farm and Hospital, the facility’s current building was constructed in 1959 and expanded in 2004 when additional resident rooms were added.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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