2013-09-19 / Front Page

Board targets MCF members

Commissioners look to dismiss appointees

MANISTIQUE – The Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners has voted to begin the process of possibly dismissing two of the three Schoolcraft County Medical Care Facility Board members. The move, which prompted resistance from those in attendance at Thursday’s regular meeting, is in reaction to the recent financial woes experienced by the facility.

The MCF has been struggling since late summer with cash flow, citing a misleading accounts receivable statement and a declining census. The facility’s board, consisting of governor-appointed Keith Aldrich and commissionerappointed Gary Demers and Dixie Anderson, along with its thenadministrator, Jerry Hubbard, approached the county in late June to discuss possibly borrowing funds.

Since that time, the facility has been able to stay afloat on its own, due in part to staff wage cuts and an increase in census. However, the common consensus remains that the facility will not be able to sustain itself, and its board, along with county commissioners, have decided to pursue an operating millage.

In an August meeting, Commissioner Al Grimm voiced the board’s disappointment in the MCF board for not taking action quickly enough in regard to the facility’s finances and dismissing administration responsible for the problems. He noted that, although Hubbard had resigned to take a position at the Marquette County Medical Care Facility, the board was having him remain at the facility until the interim leader, Michael Stephenson, of Atlanta, Mich., was ready to take over. Hubbard vacated the MCF on Sept. 13.

Grimm noted that he and the other commissioners were looking into possibly dismissing the entire MCF board.

During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners discussed the possible dismissal of two of the MCF board members – Anderson and Demers.

According to Anderson, she received a call from Grimm last week, asking her to voluntarily step down. She voiced her opposition to the suggestion, noting that the board is doing everything it can for the facility.

“We have been through a lot, as a team,” she said. “We’re never going to please everybody, but I think because we’ve been through this, we’ve learned a lot.”

She explained that many changes have been made, such as cuts to administrative staff, and that receivables were being collected.

“All of these employees – we have worked as a team,” she said. “No matter who you want to point a finger at, these people here have all worked together … to keep providing that level of care.”

Aldrich pointed out that the board was, for the most part, in the dark about the severity of the facility’s dwindling finances. He noted that they began to get suspicious when Hubbard requested restricted funds, set aside for other various projects, to cover payroll.

At one point, the board requested an “age report”, Aldrich explained, which showed that the $1.6 million Hubbard had been telling them was coming in, was so dated, the likelihood of actually obtaining that money was slim to none.

“We didn’t have access to that stuff (the aging report); Jerry just didn’t show it to us,” he said.

Shortly after seeing the report and realizing the dire state of the facility, Aldrich said he and the board believe Hubbard went searching for other employment.

“Finally, Jerry understood the fact that it (MCF) was going broke,” he said. “That’s the point in time that I think that Jerry went and applied for the job.”

According to Commissioner Dan LaFoille, the aging report serves as an example of the board not digging deep enough into the facility’s operations.

“You guys asked questions, you didn’t get the answers,” he said. “The problem is … you might get an answer, but you better figure out what the question should be … because you’re not going to get the right answer without the right question.”

Aldrich agreed with LaFoille, but added that the facility has been facing these problems, on a smaller scale, for years.

“We accept the blame,” he said. “Things happened there that probably shouldn’t have, but, you know, this has been going on for at least three years.”

According to Anderson, despite what was perceived as Hubbard’s financial missteps, the board couldn’t oust him without enough evidence. She added that the facility has to have a licensed administrator at the facility, or run the risk of having the state shut it down.

“You seem to feel, for some reason, that this board was under some conspiracy to keep things from you, and that is not the case,” she said. “We have always been very open with you … you knew everything we knew – you didn’t say anything.”

Anderson added that the culmination of events, including a decline in census, an overpayment to the Medicaid Interim Payments system, delayed payments from the state, a large court-ordered payment to a wrongfully terminated employee, and rising costs resulted in the “perfect storm”.

The negativity currently surrounding the facility has had an effect on public perception, Demers explained in a prepared statement. He noted the board has tried to focus on the positive aspects of the facility and garner community support for the millage.

“It has been indicated by the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners, with the new administration in place, they would like to move in a new direction, and refresh the positions of their two board member appointees,” he said. “I would hope the new direction the county board of commissioners is taking will continue to reinforce and enhance the financial turnaround reflected recently.”

Stephenson, who was also present at the meeting, implored the commissioners to think about the MCF residents before pursuing a dismissal of board members.

“I don’t know if we can afford the time, operationally, to lose the background that we already have at the board level,” he said. “You’re talking two-thirds of the board going away … you’re severely compromising the knowledge base of the board.

Our residents need continuity – our residents do not need upheaval,” he added.

Cleo Wills, a nurse at the facility, noted during public comment that while she would not defend either board, it has been “awful” trying to keep up with the changes already in place at the facility.

“To just take and remove what is, pretty much a critical part of facility, and bring in all brand new people … I would think about it,” she said. “Let’s learn from it and let’s move on,” she said.

She noted that Anderson’s term expires at the end of October, and to cause “turmoil” and begin the dismissal process would be unnecessary.

While Commissioner LaFoille explained that the county has made a “commitment” to not let the facility go under, he made a motion to “have the beginning of the process that we have already looked into and create a date for a hearing so that the members will have their opportunity to put their ducks in a row.”

The commissioners will hold a hearing for the two MCF board members to be dismissed on Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. in the courthouse.

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