Board laments hospital’s financial woes

IRON MOUNTAIN — Ongoing financial troubles at Dickinson County Healthcare System were discussed briefly Monday by county commissioners who for now will maintain a hands-off approach as DCHS officials try to work through the difficulty.

Commissioner Joe Stevens, who serves as a liaison to the hospital board, said the bottom-line loss so far this year is about $7.5 million.

“We want our hospital to be the best it can be and as good as it is,” Stevens said, referencing DCHS’s many accolades in recent years, including a Healthgrades ranking in the top 5 percent in the nation for patient safety.

Stevens said the hospital continues to explore options to survive its financial challenges.

DCHS, for its part, has turned to a Nashville-based communications firm to help explain future developments or strategies. The Board of Trustees last week approved hiring Lovell Communications, a firm that specializes in health care marketing, public relations and crisis communications.

Commissioner John Degenaer Jr. pointed to discounted reimbursements from Michigan Blue Cross-Blue Shield as a key reason for the hospital’s financial woes. Degenaer said the insurer deducted $13,000 from his recent hospital bill for hip surgery.

Hospital officials have also cited Medicare and Medicaid adjustments, rising pharmaceutical costs, unreimbursed care and a number of other factors as operational challenges.

As a nonprofit Public Act 230 community hospital, DCHS’s financial survival always has been achieved independently. The hospital receives no county appropriations or taxpayer support.

In other action, the county board:

— Heard State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, say he will continue efforts to repeal the state’s no-fault insurance law. That comes after the House defeated an overhaul of the no-fault auto insurance system on 45-63 vote earlier this month. LaFave supported that measure, which he said failed due to opposition from attorneys and health care providers. Auto insurers, he said, often are forced to pay too much to treat crash victims. Hospitals need to be profitable, he said, “but what they don’t need to do is balance their books on the backs of Michigan drivers.”

— In a 3-2 vote, denied District Court Judge Christopher Ninomiya’s request to post and fill a full-time senior court clerk vacancy. Voting in the majority were Degenaer and commissioners Barbara Kramer and Ann Martin. They said the request can be revisited once contracts are settled with unionized county employees and the outcome of Verso Inc.’s property tax appeal is known.

— Agreed to donate an acre near the tri-county Pinecrest Medical Care Facility in Powers to Spalding Township to develop a walking trail, subject to the concurrence of Delta and Menominee counties.

— Approved buying used city equipment from Iron Mountain for Ford Airport maintenance — a 1988 John Deere 450 bulldozer for $15,000 and a 1990 Mack dump truck for $3,000.

— Rescheduled its second December meeting to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26, to avoid a conflict with Christmas.

— Went into closed session to discuss negotiations with collective bargaining units.