DCHS may not need layoffs, board chair says

IRON MOUNTAIN — It’s possible that needed staff reductions at Dickinson County Healthcare System may come through attrition and not require layoffs, the hospital board chairman said Monday.

Cautioning that “everything is fluid,” Margaret Minerick told the Dickinson County Board “things are looking up” at DCHS.

A 2019 budget will likely be finalized when the hospital board meets Feb. 21, Minerick said.

A month ago, DCHS interim CEO Jeanne Goche said the hospital was about $2 million short of a true break-even budget for 2019 and decisions on an unspecified number of staff cuts were pending. However, apart from the retirement of otolaryngology specialist Dr. Ray Cameron, who won’t be replaced, and the closing of the Wausaukee, Wis., clinic, there were no plans to otherwise curtail services.

Minerick said the board has been pleased so far with the performance of both Goche and restructuring officer Dennis Smith, who came to DCHS in early December.

In September, DCHS was ready to explore Chapter 11 bankruptcy after two potential buyers of the hospital pulled away. Washington D.C.-based Venable LLP was then hired to oversee a financial restructuring and develop a turnaround plan.

Venable, with former northern Michigan congressman Bart Stupak at its main representative, hopes to obtain long-term federal financing to help stabilize DCHS. The goal is to borrow $30 million or more by summer through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency, pay off outstanding debts, possibly make new investments and map a course for profitability.

In other action Monday, the county board:

— Unanimously approved appointing Dr. John To to fill a hospital board vacancy. To, a radiologist, will serve a term to expire Dec. 31, at which time he could be reappointed. In an interview with the board, To said the top priority is keeping the facility open and offering quality service.

— Authorized forester Brock VanOss of Crystal Falls to prepare a harvest plan for 40 acres of county property at Pine Mountain. Aspen, mainly, could be cut from about 15 acres on the southwest side, VanOss said.

— Decided to raise no objections to a planned Michigan Department of Natural Resources land swap, in which the state will acquire 200 acres of private land in Marquette County’s Wells Township in exchange for 200 acres of state-owned land in Norway Township. The state-owned parcel the applicant has requested is surrounded by private ownership and offers no public access, according to the DNR.

— Heard Commissioner Barbara Kramer say plans are progressing to rebuild a wall along the beach at Lake Antoine, aided by a $40,000 grant from The Toro Foundation to the Lake Antoine Park Partners.

— Heard commissioners Joe Stevens and Kevin Pirlot praise the Kiwanis Ski Club for the successful Continental Cup ski jumping tournament at Pine Mountain. “We can’t thank them enough,” said Stevens, who acknowledged the Dickinson County Sheriff Department for its efforts as well.

— Updated its policy for making appointments to county committees, boards and commissions. The new policy includes a two-page application form that seeks basic background information and asks applicants to identify potential conflicts of interest. Interviews with applicants will be at the discretion of the county board.