2013-08-15 / Front Page

Treading water

County Continues hunt for MCF solutions

MANISTIQUE – The hunt for answers and information about the current declining financial status of the Schoolcraft Medical Care Facility continued last week. Over 40 county and MCF employees crowded the courthouse as the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners issued an update on the facility.

According to Commissioner Dan LaFoille, the board had invited the employees to hear the update, as most were likely wondering how the situation could affect them in the future.

The county learned in late June that the facility was running out of funding, had a declining census, and having a problem obtaining reimbursements for Medicaid and Medicare bills. Since that time, the county’s finance committee has been working to identify which areas of the facility are struggling and how to fix them.

“Given the grave financial situation at the medical care facility, and the short timeline to act, the impact on the county employees at MCF and throughout the county could be significant,” LaFoille read. “For that reason, and because of the potential impact on our most vulnerable residents – those people who reside at the medical care facility, the finance committee has been, and will continue to be very careful through its fact-finding mission.”

Two consultants, from Iron and Houghton counties, visited the MCF recently, LaFoille said, and recommended a review of its receivables. Currently, those receivables, or anticipated revenue, are estimated to be approximately $1.2 million – an estimate the commissioners feel is higher than it is in reality. LaFoille noted a consultant would be checking into this number in the near future.

In defense of criticism received by the board of commissioners for asking numerous questions, and seemingly taking their time, while conducting the investigation into the facility’s situation, LaFoille said being methodical is necessary.

“I feel it is better to be criticized for asking too many questions and being too careful than not asking the right questions and being taken by surprise,” he said.

It is still uncertain how the facility came to be in such a dire financial situation with no action taken. The county claims its treasurer had inquired about certain aspects of the facility’s budget on numerous occasions, but had been told by the MCF board – charged with operating the facility – that the problem was only temporary.

LaFoille said he believes the “conservative nature” of the county board, along with the sacrifices of county employees, has allowed them to gain a favorable financial position in regard to the county’s finances.

“The sacrifice is what got us through some very difficult times, the sacrifice has helped us position ourselves fairly well financially,” he said. “I believe that this sacrifice should be rewarded. In the next budget year, we will do all that we can to take care of our county employees.”

The anticipated “thank you” to county employees may end up being just a pipe dream, however, as the county remains unsure of whether they are legally obligated to assist the facility and of the amount possibly needed to help the facility regain its financial footing.

Originally, the finance committee had said an estimated $500,000 – likely taken from its delinquent tax revolving fund – would have to be pumped into the MCF.

LaFoille said this estimate had recently changed with news of an increased census, along with employee wage cuts.

According to Commissioner Sue Cameron, the non-union had taken a pay cut of 7.5 percent, while the union employees agreed upon a 5 percent wage decrease.

“I commend the employees for making such a sacrifice,” she said. “The last thing we want is the facility in Schoolcraft County to close.”

While the wage cuts and increased census help the facility in the short-term, LaFoille said the finance committee is also exploring long term solutions. A millage, he explained, would help sustain the facility and help the MCF avoid displacing the elder residents residing there.

“I don’t know what the people of Schoolcraft County will say in November, when that faces them on the ballot,” he said. “I would hope that we would all get behind that and push for it … that is a part of the long term sustainability of the facility.”

Currently, LaFoille said the finance committee expects the facility to be self-sustaining until October. At that point, he explained, the county may need to step in.

In a press release issued Wednesday by the MCF board, its members, including Dixie Anderson, Gary Demers, and Keith Aldrich, announced the resignation of MCF Administrator Gerome Hubbard.

“At a special meeting of the Schoolcraft County Department of Human Services/Medical Care Facility board Aug. 13, the board accepted, with best wishes for himself and his family, the resignation of medical care facility administrator, Jerome Hubbard,” the release stated. “Through a co-operative effort of the DHS/MCF board, representatives of the county board and Mr. Hubbard, a transition plan was developed with the goal of providing for the long-term future of the medical care facility.”

The board, in its first statement to the public since news of the facility’s finances broke, also thanked employees.

“The MCF board wishes to express their appreciation to all the staff of the facility for the excellence and quality of their work and their willingness to accept wage and other concessions as part of the restructuring plan to secure the long term success and financial viability of the facility,” the release stated. “The medical care facility currently employs approximately 120 full and part time staff. Occupancy, which had been on a decline, has been steadily increasing and currently is near capacity with 77 of 80 beds filled.”

During last Thursday’s meeting Commissioner Al Grimm emphasized the need for everyone to work together toward a solution to save the facility.

“To me, medicare (MCF) is a jewel of the community,” he said. “I truly don’t want to see it collapse and go down – I think we have to make every effort to make this work.”

Addressing the emotionallycharged discourse about the facility, Commissioner Jerry Zellar warned those in attendance to be wary of what they hear.

“Rumors are very, very dangerous right now,” he said. “Before you tell the next person and the next person and the next person, make sure everything you know is correct.”

LaFoille ended the discussion reassuring the county and its employees that the matter is being taken seriously.

“The circumstances that brought them to this point, we’re going to make darn sure that, going forward, if there’s anything we can do to change those circumstances so it doesn’t happen again – we’re going to do it,” he said. “We want to make sure that we identify what got us here, and that it doesn’t happen anymore.”

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