As a Flint-based hospital system prepares next week to finalize its purchase of Cheboygan Memorial Hospital, a nurses union has grown frustrated with a lack of information.
Details of the sale to McLaren Health Care have been scarce, even after it was approved late last week in federal bankruptcy court.
Sigh Of Relief
The sale of Cheboygan Memorial to Flint-based McLaren comes after years of struggle by local hospital officials to return the hospital to profitability, or anything close. Last year's operating deficit was about seven million dollars. That's even after restructuring and clinical cutbacks over several years.
So everyone seems to agree this sale to McLaren is very good news for Cheboygan.
"The most important objective that the board and myself have had for quite some time is to make sure we secure quality health care in the community for the long term," says CMH Board President Jamie McClurg.
The situation was desperate. Hospital CEO Shari Schult said in a press release dated March 15th that failure to sell to McLaren, and fast, could lead to an "orderly wind down of the organization."
After the sale, McClurg says: "The sigh of relief is to know that we're going to be part of the McLaren system, which is one of the top systems, I think, in the country."
Nurses Raise Concerns
But relief for the hospital's nurses has been tempered by a plethora of unanswered questions, says their labor representative with the Michigan Nurses Association, based in Lansing.
"We know that there is a commitment to providing health care for the community, we just don't know what that is going to look like. So I would say the tenor of the nurses is very anxious," says Shela Khan-Monroe.
Khan-Monroe says the purchase agreement does not spell out specific services McLaren is to provide in Cheboygan.
She's been asking about McLaren's business plan. She wants to know which clinical services will remain in the local community, also which facilities will stay open. She wants to knbow about staffing, if there will be more layoffs and cutbacks.
The McLaren spokesman in Flint has not returned multiple calls from IPR. Similarly, we haven't heard back from staff at CMH this week. We do know from a press release that a team from McLaren is supposed to be in Cheboygan working on a transition plan.
Kahn-Monroe says the nurses are committed to McLaren, just as they say they stuck by CMH through years of struggle. But they want to know there's a plan, and they want details. They're especially concerned about one specific day in the not-so distant future when CMH ceases to exist. All employees will be terminated and those needed by McLaren will be re-hired.
Though the CMH board president is confident there will be no disruption in patient services that day, as of yet, the nurse's union is not.
"In order for us to make sure that the health care that is provided to the community is quality care and quality service, we have to keep pushing McLaren to disclose their plan for the community and for staffing of the hospital," says Khan-Monroe.
In Petoskey, Northern Michigan Regional Hospital became a subsidiary of McLaren earlier this year, and it has since taken the name McLaren - Northern Michigan. NMRH wasn't sold and it retains its own, local board of directors.
In Cheboygan, after the sale the local board will be disbanded. One of the still-unanswered questions is who will oversee Cheboygan's hospital when that happens.
CMH's board president says he doesn't know the answer to that question yet. He also won't speculate on McLaren's plans.
But the hospital still has a steep operating deficit, so it is hard to imagine that the sale of this hospital won't, at first, bring some more cutbacks for the local community.
"I think things will improve over time, as we see what the transition brings," McClurg says.
"But there's lots of changes coming in health care, whether it be at the local level or the national level. I don't any of us can predict exactly what those are going to look like.
"So, even though we have now secured, I think, a good relationship with an excellent organization, it's hard to predict what else we'll be challenged with in the future."
And that's a sentiment that's been echoed by hospital leaders all over northern Michigan.