Union opposes new hospital investment

Baraga County Memorial Hospital administration got the go-ahead Wednesday to explore the construction of a new hospital facility and to look into moving the hospital’s long-term care beds to Bayside Village. The hospital’s board of trustees held a special meeting at the Lakeside Inn in Baraga, choosing the venue in anticipation of a large public turnout. That was the case, with standing room only.

The board voted to send a letter to state regulators signaling the hospital’s intent to construct a new facility and to move long-term care operations to Bayside Village, Baraga County’s nursing home. Hospital Administrator John Tembreull said the current facility on Main Street in L’Anse is antiquated. He said replacing rather than renovating that building is a more cost-effective way to achieve the hospital’s goal of expanding specialty clinic space and consolidating general practice physicians within one facility.

“As we looked at the building and the changes that needed to be made, basically the studies found that it was cheaper to go in and build new than to renovate,” Tembreull said.

Filing the letter of intent authorizes hospital administration to seek financing and look for property for a new building. The board’s decision to move long-term care beds to the county’s nursing home facility, Bayside Village, proved more controversial. Tembreull said the move would save the hospital money because of the way Medicare payments are structured. “The hospital pays a penalty for having the nursing home attached and that’s eliminated if the beds are no longer attached and are operated by Bayside,” he said.

But hospital employees are concerned about full-time jobs with benefits getting lost in the transition. Non-certified employees at the hospital — including dietary, laundry, housekeeping workers and nurses’ aids — are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2088.

“We are disappointed,” union President Bridget Collins said. “We don’t want all the beds moved down there. It’s a lower reimbursement rate down there and it’s a lot of jobs we’ll lose with benefits if we go down there.”

Shana Alderton, a state representative from AFSCME Council 25 in Marquette, said the move could result in the loss of 41 jobs at the hospital.

Tembreull said the board’s decision to send the letters of intent does not obligate them to any course of action.

“The board at this point is not actually committed to doing any of it, but it does get us started down the road as far as putting pieces together,” Tembreull said.

Alderton said the union hopes when the board does decide on a final course of action, it will choose not to move the long term care beds to Bayside.

“Our hope is that they will proceed with the new hospital if they so choose, but that they would maintain the long-term care in the hospital,” she said.


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