Candidates share views on DCHS, no-fault insurance

Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo Democrat Scott Dianda, left, and Republican Ed McBroom, candidates for the Michigan State Senate in the 38th District, participate in a forum Thursday in Kingsford hosted by the American Association of University Women.

KINGSFORD — The money crisis at Dickinson County Healthcare System was the main topic for county commissioner candidates at a forum hosted Thursday by the Iron Mountain-Kingsford branch of the American Association of University Women.

About a hundred people attended the issue-oriented event. The name Donald Trump was barely mentioned by 13 candidates for local, state and federal offices during nearly three hours of discussion.

Doug Stock, a Democrat running for county commissioner against incumbent Republican Joe Stevens in District 1, said it seemed the county board was taken by surprise when DCHS fell into financial trouble last year.

“Instead of overseeing, they were kind of overlooking the hospital,” he said.

Stevens, in turn, said it’s important to stay positive about DCHS but he denied the county board was ever in the dark. The hospital should emerge stronger through a restructuring effort led by former Congressman Bart Stupak and the Washington, D.C.-based Venable LLP law firm, Stevens said.

Barbara Kramer, the incumbent Republican in District 3, said the hospital board is autonomous but pointed out she has called for removing CEO John Schon. “The hospital board and CEO better do exactly what Venable says,” she said.

Dale Alessandrini, the Democratic candidate in District 3, said hospital trustees are appointed with the advice and consent of the county board. Commissioners stood by while DCHS acquired properties, gave raises to Schon and not to nurses, and slid to near bankruptcy, he said.

Alessandrini also criticized the board for closed sessions held during failed negotiations this year to sell DCHS to Green Bay-based Bellin Health and then Marquette-based U.P. Health System. Those private meetings were illegal, he said, noting he has obtained the minutes.

Kevin Pirlot, the Democratic challenger in District 2, claimed the county board has been secretive even when gathering in open session. Hospital business was discussed during a committee meeting at Ford Airport, he said, complaining “that is not transparency.” The hiring of Venable, Pirlot added, is a third-party strategy he has long-advocated, even as the county board was accepting a potential DCHS bankruptcy.

“The county board never clamored for bankruptcy,” countered Commissioner Ann Martin, the incumbent Republican in District 2. A feasibility study requested by Venable will help guide decisions for the future, she continued. “I think there will be some answers,” she said.

Michigan’s high-priced automobile insurance dominated discussions among state legislative candidates, with State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, lamenting the defeat of a reform bill, saying it could have saved motorists a thousand dollars a year.

LaFave’s opponent, Democrat Bob Romps of Escanaba, said the House bill was flawed and Republicans “couldn’t get it done” even while controlling the Legislature and governorship.

Scott Dianda, a Democratic state representative from Calumet seeking a promotion to the Senate, said there was “no guarantee of savings” in the legislation.

Former state Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, now a candidate for the Senate, said trial attorneys are the obstacle to no-fault insurance reform. Any Republicans who opposed the most recent proposed remedy should be voted out of office, he asserted.

The forum was moderated by Lois Ellis, director of the Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance, who asked the state candidates what might be done to fill job vacancies, particularly in skilled trades.

McBroom said the educational system needs a shift to more local control, while Dianda called for a better partnership between schools and industry.

LaFave said there has been too much emphasis on college degrees, noting he has championed trades training for high school students.

Romps, meanwhile, said employers bear some responsibility. “They don’t provide full-time jobs because they don’t want to pay the benefits,” he said.

In response to a question about mental health services and the opioid crisis, all of the state candidates said there is a vital need for a mental health treatment center in the Upper Peninsula.

Also participating in the forum were candidates for District 95B Court judge Grant Carlson and incumbent Julie LaCost.

Carlson said it’s important for the court to follow the law and “treat everyone with respect and dignity.” LaCost said her goal is to “best serve the community” by “making sure justice is done for everyone.”

Marcia Squier of Saint Clair Shores, a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, drove nearly 500 miles to attend. She told the audience she’s been at forums across the state and has yet to meet her opponents — Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow and Republican John James.

Squier called for ending the “war for fossil fuels overseas” and focusing on health care, education and infrastructure.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, was represented by spokesman John Yob, who said the congressman is helping to deliver the lowest unemployment rates in the U.P. in nearly 20 years. Bergman’s challenger, Democrat Matt Morgan of Traverse City, was not represented at the Kingsford High School Auditorium event.

Jim Anderson can be reached at 906-774-3500 ext. 26 or