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DCHS waits for answer on federal borrowing

Dickinson County Memorial Hospital (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County Healthcare System may learn within the next month if its application for a $16.9 million federal loan will be approved.

Meeting via Zoom on Thursday, CEO Chuck Nelson told the hospital board the Rural Development application has advanced to a final review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There should be an indication “in the next two to three weeks if our funding will be accomplished,” he said.

The loan amount is down about $8 million from the hospital’s initial request more than a year ago, which was shelved after federal officials said they wanted evidence of financial stability through this year. The hospital has steadied, showing a year-to-date positive bottom line of $3.9 million through the end of August.

Federal funds are needed to refinance debt and acquire new equipment, although some projects are underway, including roof repairs and a $1 million emergency department renovation.

County Commissioner Joe Stevens, a liaison to the hospital board, asked about the status of nearly $10 million owed to Fifth Third Bank, which in March granted an extension on a balloon payment. Stevens also mentioned a debt with Bellin Health Systems of Green Bay, Wis., which extended $1.8 million in credit before withdrawing an offer to acquire DCHS in May 2018.

Nelson, while not getting into specifics, said CFO Brian Donahue has kept in contact with the hospital’s lenders and “all’s good on that front.”

In other action, the hospital board:

— Heard Meghan Rossato, director of operations, report that a rise in COVID-19 infections both locally and across the U.P. is a serious concern. The hospital remains “in the green” in all supply areas for both treatment and personal protection, she added. Bed capacity is not yet an issue, and there is room to expand the respiratory unit, if needed. As of Thursday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported three COVID-19 patients at Dickinson County Memorial Hospital, including two in intensive care. Total bed occupancy was listed at 36.7%.

— Asked the public to continue to seek health care as needed and recognize that coronavirus safety protocols are in place. “If you need health care, please come in, it’s a very safe environment,” said Joe Rizzo, director of public relations and business development.

— Approved, by unanimous vote, a new three-year agreement with employees represented by the Michigan Nurses Association.

— Learned from Nelson that a new DCHS service, a hospital retail pharmacy, is scheduled to open in November. By March, a new electronic records service should be in place for clinical patients through althenahealth, he said.

— Received a September financial report, with Finance Chairman Jeffrey Campbell noting a “break even” month that included a decline in patient volumes.

— Was informed there are five applicants for two upcoming trustee appointments on the nine-member panel. Trustee Sally Blom, who had considered stepping down, has agreed to continue through the end of 2021, said Chairwoman Margaret Minerick.

— Heard Stevens praise the efforts of both the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department and DCHS staff throughout the pandemic.

— Relayed compliments on the appearance of the hospital lobby, which has been renovated with the support of the Dickinson Hospital Foundation.

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