High-quality, local health care is a key component of thriving communities. Patients on the Upper Peninsula have always had access to attentive and compassionate care, but have sometimes had to travel to obtain advanced specialist care. Exciting new partnerships and expansions in four cities across the region are set to change the face of healthcare in UP, creating jobs, increasing local healthcare spending and bringing more advanced care closer to home.
Over the past year, access to health care in the Upper Peninsula has begun to expand rapidly. Dickinson County Healthcare System in Iron Mountain and War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie have both joined larger health systems. Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital in Manistique has expanded its facilities and Aspirus Health is finalizing plans for a new facility in Ontonagon. Through these projects, residents of UP will have greater access to convenient, high-quality health care.
“These projects will have a major positive economic impact on our region and improve our quality of life,” said Marty Fittante, CEO of InvestUP. “It’s no secret that rural health care is vulnerable. According to recent findings from the Chartis Center for Rural Health, at least 135 rural hospitals across the United States have closed since 2010, and more than 400 more are at risk of closing. These expansions will have a stabilizing influence on local jobs, local economies and the health of the people who live in and around these communities.
UP first experienced the impact of such mergers more than a decade ago, when larger networks like UP Health and Aspirus acquired smaller, local hospital systems. The two hospital networks have since injected millions of dollars into the region and expanded access to healthcare for local communities.
Dickinson County Healthcare recently joined Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS) to become Marshfield Medical Center – Dickinson. Chuck Nelson, CEO of Marshfield Medical Center – Dickinson said, “Our excellent local delivery of care across a wide range of services has been expanded and strengthened by our affiliation with Marshfield. We invest in every health care offering in our core service area and locally expand regional access to cutting-edge programs in cancer care, cardiac care, pediatrics, orthopedics, and more. . We are excited to serve as a regional hub for quality healthcare.
Effective January 1, 2022, War Memorial Hospital (WMH) in Sault Ste. Marie has become the eighth medical center in the MyMichigan Health system. David Jahn, president and CEO of WMH, says the agreement will increase the number of local service lines and provide financial stability. “While our past two years have been some of our best, running an independent rural hospital is a challenge. This agreement will allow us to provide premium care right here. Before, if someone needed a cardiac catheterization, they had to go to Petoskey, Traverse City or as far away as Marquette. MyMichigan will invest more than $60 million in capital improvements over the next five to ten years. The agreement also states that no employee will lose their job or benefits for the first five years.
Campus expansions also have an impact. Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital in Manistique is preparing to wrap up phase two of a $12.8 million expansion project that kicked off in May 2021. The project includes a location for rehabilitation services, a aquatic therapy, new ambulatory care infusion suites and a 12,555 square-foot administration building located at the east end of campus. The rehabilitation/infusion center was opened to the public on February 21 and the clinic opened on February 22. The administrative move is currently scheduled for April 1st. The project will streamline care by bringing together the medical team and services under one roof. The rehabilitation center was previously two miles from the hospital; now it has its own wing. The expansion project will also allow SCMH to add new providers and offer more services, helping to maintain local healthcare.
Aspirus Health’s latest project is the construction of a new $15.8 million hospital in Ontonagon. Construction is expected to begin in the coming months. The new Aspirus Ontonagon Hospital will offer a number of services under one roof, including family medicine, specialty care, outpatient therapies, diagnostic imaging, laboratory services, and more. Having multiple departments in one place should provide patients of all ages with more efficient access to comprehensive health care. The state-of-the-art facility will incorporate patient-centric design features, starting with easy-access parking and centralized check-in. The current hospital will remain open and continue to provide care to the community while the new facility is being built.
Healthcare is one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the country and has more job demand than any other industry in UP. As the population of the Upper Peninsula ages and more health care networks develop, local demand will only increase. “UP students considering a career path would do well to focus on health professions,” Fittante said. “As the number and variety of local medical services continue to grow and more residents take advantage of health care close to home, the potential is there for a very strong future job market.”