County standing pat on DCHS

IRON MOUNTAIN — The survival of Dickinson County’s hospital is the most important consideration as talks continue on a possible sale to LifePoint Health, a county commissioner said Monday.

“We need that facility where it’s at, running as it’s supposed to,” said Joe Stevens, a liaison to the Dickinson County Healthcare System Board. “We want it to be as good as it has been and even better in the future.”

Stevens’ comments came after Iron Mountain Mayor Dale Alessandrini suggested to the county board it “get rid of” the hospital board.

Stevens acknowledged the county has the right to remove individual board members for cause but said it would be unwise.

“Do you jeopardize the sale if you remove the trustees?” he said. “What’s that going to say to LifePoint?”

DCHS signed a non-binding letter of intent July 19 to explore a possible sale to Marquette-based UP Health, which is affiliated with Duke LifePoint, a joint venture of Duke University Health System Inc. and LifePoint Health, a private health care company. In a press release, officials said it would take 60 to 90 days or more to determine if negotiations should begin on a definitive agreement.

DCHS has been seeking greater financial stability after Bellin Health of Green Bay, Wis., withdrew in May from an acquisition agreement that was estimated at $61 million, all of which would have gone to pay the hospital’s long-term debt and unfunded pension liabilities.

According to minutes from a June 15 executive session of the county board, LifePoint in preliminary acquisition talks requested a tax abatement for 12 years, or up to $17 million. That detail was not disclosed until this month, when Alessandrini obtained the minutes through the Freedom of Information Act.

Bellin, a non-profit organization, was expected to pay no property taxes had it followed through on its acquisition plan.

Meanwhile, DCHS on Thursday released information on CEO-Administrator John Schon’s salary and benefits, showing he was paid a base salary ranging from $270,700 to $301,269 in each of the past five years. In addition to numerous perks and benefits, incentive compensation of $56,843 was paid in 2015 and $60,254 in 2016.

Alessandrini, the Democratic candidate for the county board in District 3 in November, said Schon pays nothing toward his health care coverage, including any costs at DCHS not covered by his insurance.

“Their employees took cuts while he was getting bonuses,” he said.

Commissioner Barbara Kramer, the incumbent Republican in District 3, said when DCHS trustees Steve Zurcher and Dan Wentarmini tried to place new terms on Schon’s contract in June, they got no support from the nine-member board.

“No one else wanted to sign it,” she said.

Kramer said Iron Mountain will be the main beneficiary once LifePoint begins to pay taxes, and the city would have to approve any abatement. She suggested Alessandrini work to “complete the deal instead of attacking for personal gain.”

Commissioner John Degenaer Jr. said the county needs to play a greater role in the hospital’s future. “We have to salvage this hospital,” he said. Trustees, he said, are standing by Schon as “the master of the ship, but the ship is sinking.”

Stevens countered the county needs to be careful not to jeopardize a sale to LifePoint and invite bankruptcy.

“We’re this close,” he said. “If we screw this up, woe to us.”

Kramer, too, said she believed bankruptcy would cause much harm.

Commissioner Ann Martin clarified the county board has no authority to remove the hospital’s CEO, while Chairman Henry Wender said he wants DCHS to continue its current level of services.

Quinnesec resident Mike Bronzyk also spoke, saying he agrees with Alessandrini and is afraid LifePoint is after “every nickel” it can take from taxpayers while “the workers who make it happen” get less.

Zurcher and Wentarmini have since stepped down from the hospital board. A document with the changes they sought in Schon’s contract was distributed to the county board Monday by Alessandrini, along with further information on the current contract.

In a press release this month, DCHS said there was no official reason for the resignations of Zurcher and Wentarmini.

In other action, the county board:

— Heard Controller Brian Bousley report Ford Airport had a record month in July, with 2,148 boardings and 2,120 deplanements on SkyWest Airlines flights.

— Learned that four candidates have been interviewed to fill a veterans service officer vacancy in the Dickinson County Office of Veterans Affairs. A choice should be made soon, Stevens said.

— Received a report that Bill Adrian, chief financial officer, is interim CEO at Northpointe Behavioral Health. The process is underway to make a permanent hiring, Martin said.

— Agreed to prepare a resolution saluting Lake Shore Systems Inc. of Kingsford, which has been designing and manufacturing equipment for the maritime and mining industries for 160 years.

— Heard Wender praise recent improvements, including installation of a Quonset hut, at the Dickinson County Fairgrounds in Norway.

— Heard Degenaer thank voters for their support of millage renewals in the Aug. 7 election.