County commissioners, public discuss Medical Care Facility

MANISTEE COUNTY — The pace at which healthcare evolves makes the future difficult to predict, but the Manistee County Board of Commissioners has resolved to keep ahead of the curve through conversation.

An ad hoc committee was recently formed for that purpose, specifically in regards to the Manistee County Medical Care Facility, which has serviced area residents for several generations.

“Is it a facility that’s going to be suitable for a person who needs their care five, 10, 15 years down the road? And how will that look?” said Karen Goodman, one of three county commissioners who make up the committee. “Will it be short term stay, long term stay and will there be specialty care?

“Those are the things we have to consider as healthcare changes,” she said. “We want to be sure we are actively thinking about what the future will hold.”

The committee recently held its first meeting, which was well attended by members of the public, many of whom work in the medical profession locally.

“We had a tremendous amount of input,” Goodman said. “It’s clear we value having a long term care facility within our community, and people really support it.”

While the potential of selling the county-owned, not-for-profit skilled nursing facility has become a talking point, it’s simply an option commissioners have weighed in on while discussing possible paths for the facility into the future.

“It’s not a black and white discussion or even about a potential sale,” Goodman said. “The conversation is evolving and we’re really looking at the Medical Care Facility as a whole: what it offers its employees and its customers, who are members of our community.

“We have to look at what the best path for the future is for our Medical Care,” she added. “That’s what this conversation is about, and listening to the community is a big part of it.”

At the committee meeting, some community members spoke passionately in opposition of the idea of selling the facility to a private organization in the future.

“Community resources, such as our county Medical Care Facility, should remain under the control of elected leaders who will put the health and safety of our friends and neighbors first,” said Kari Zoscsak, a registered nurse and president of the nurses’ union at Munson Healthcare Manistee Hospital. “I know from experience that such a sale is likely to negatively impact patients and the quality of care.”

According to Munson Healthcare officials, the current nursing contract with Zoscsak’s union expired on Dec 31, 2017. Since October, the hospital and the Michigan Nurses Association have been working on a new collective bargaining agreement, which, for the last several months, has included a federal mediator to facilitate negotiations.

“Part of maintaining safe staffing levels is providing competitive wages and benefits for skilled registered nurses and healthcare workers in the region,” Zoscsak said. “When hospitals and long-term care facilities are understaffed, it can lead to medical errors, falls, infections and even deaths. And understaffing is so often the result of cost-saving measures that go hand in hand with privatization. …

“As things stand, I am proud that the county Medical Care Facility serves all residents, regardless of ability to pay,” she added. “It is critically important that this long-term care facility remain focused on caring for our loved ones.

“I urge the members of the county board to oppose any sale that might endanger local patients. There is no compelling reason to put some of our most vulnerable community members at risk by selling the facility.”

Goodman and fellow county commissioners have stated that their priority in these discussions is also for the care for county residents, now and into the future.

“Our concern is for the patients and residents out there, as well as for the Medical Care staff,” Goodman said. “What healthcare looks like today is not what it’s going to look like maybe even five years down the road, let alone 10.

“We want to have a plan moving forward: What can be improved, how can we upgrade the building? We are a long ways away from even talking about a potential sale,” she said. “And if we ever were to move forward with such a thing, a lot of work, thought and community input would be involved to find (a potential buyer) who is committed to our community.

“It’s such a big picture issue and that’s why we’re having the conversation: What does the Medical Care Facility look like now, what it should look like, and what can we do to get there.”

Goodman said information gathering — such as comparisons to like-county medical care facilities facilities, regional and statewide — will be part of the discussion process as well. And in that vein, Joe Coleman, Manistee County Medical Care Facility administrator, and Renee Beniak, president of the Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council, have been participants of the ongoing dialogue.

Goodman said she expects future ad hoc committee meetings to be held.

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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