DCHS needs —and merits — the area’s support

It was welcome news last week that Dickinson County Healthcare System may have another potential partner in the wings.

After Green Bay, Wis.-based Bellin Health backed away in May from a planned acquisition after months of negotiations, DCHS has looked for ways to better ensure its future in Iron Mountain.

“DCHS is fortunate,” officials said, “to have parties that are interested in becoming our partner.”

The hospital, first opened in 1951, has struggled financially in recent years, socked with liabilities the hospital’s legal counsel reported during the Bellin negotiations totaled an estimated $61 million, including long-term debt and pension obligations.

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. After profitable years in 2014 and 2015, DCHS’s finances faltered, culminating in an estimated loss of $14 million for 2017.

So the stakes are high as DCHS searches for a strong partner that can provide some financial stability.

Dickinson County Commissioner Joe Stevens, a liaison to the DCHS board, said last month that while he didn’t believe bankruptcy was on the horizon, “time is of the essence” for the hospital board to adopt a new plan.

And during that search, the support of the extended community will be needed as perhaps never before.

Despite cost-saving measures, DCHS lost more than $3 million in the first quarter of 2018 as patient volumes dipped. So not choosing DCHS for services and care has resulted in significant financial losses, at a time when the hospital — and we as a community — can ill-afford it.

The worst-case scenario is one the region likely would regret should it come to pass; the potential loss of this facility would have repercussions that would ripple throughout the area.

It could mean traveling an hour or more to get needed routine procedures such a colonoscopy, other screenings and tests, treatment for ongoing medical conditions. The area would lack an emergency room for acute cases.

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

So DCHS has put out a call for residents to choose its specialists and hospital services. “The key component,” DCHS Administrator John Schon said, “is supporting this health system.”

Now is not the time to turn away from DCHS if it is to weather this storm.