Bellin move to acquire DCHS makes sense

The move by Bellin Health to acquire Iron Mountain-based Dickinson County Healthcare Systems would seem to make sense, at least initially.

The announcement Monday morning came as no surprise. Rumors had been circulating for weeks.

The Green Bay, Wis.-based Bellin already has a clinic in Iron Mountain. It has numerous locations throughout this part of the Upper Peninsula and northeastern Wisconsin.

Reality is DCHS has lost millions of dollars over the past few years — about $7 million so far this year alone and $10 million since 2015. Like other more rural facilities, it has taken a substantial hit in Medicare and Medicaid adjustments, plus low reimbursement rates from Michigan Blue-Cross-Blue Shield and losses from other unreimbursed care.

The fact DCHS continued to earn high marks from the Healthgrades rating organization for patient safety, despite those setbacks, is admirable but likely unsustainable.

Pairing with a larger, more urban-based healthcare system like Bellin hopefully will put DCHS on sounder financial footing.

And it should allow patients to make easier connections to specialists in this expanded network. Many in the community already regularly look to Green Bay for medical treatments not available in the Iron Mountain area.

With the region’s population skewing older, the Iron Mountain area needs a strong medical facility to ensure the level of medical care can keep pace.

That’s not denying the shift definitely will be unsettling for those who have perhaps seen three to four generations of care at DCHS, given the hospital has been a county-owned facility since 1951.

But Bellin officials on Monday seemed to take care to reassure those connected to DCHS — be they employee, official or patient — that little outwardly will change if the transfer takes place.

If some local control can be retained, as now promised, that will go a long way toward reinforcing this as a positive move.

It will be months before all the details are worked out. Snags and wrinkles will be inevitable.

But the process could lead to a stronger local health care provider for the greater Iron Mountain area.

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