Editor's note: This story was published in the Record-Eagle's Economic Outlook 2019 section, inside Tuesday's newspaper. For more stories, click here to read the section in its entirety online.

Hospitals and health clinics provide communities a place for healing — and much more.

The health care sector creates jobs, makes purchases, serves the community as a resource, and provides a real sense of assurance for those contemplating a move to the area. Potential residents to a region generally look at schools and health care as part of their decision-making.

It is also true that staff employed in the health care sector need housing, groceries, eat out from time to time, and generally provide a significant boost for the local economy. Munson Healthcare is the largest employer in northern Michigan with 8,000 employees, and 1,000 physicians, across the nine-hospital system serving 30 counties in northern Michigan.

In addition to this direct economic impact, as a non-profit, Munson Healthcare reinvests all of its money back into the community. Our most recent Community Benefit report from fiscal year 2018 shows the health system provided $91.5 million in community support. This support includes free, discounted and un-reimbursed health care services, community health programs and education, and community support and partnerships.

Despite the need to navigate ongoing uncertainties related to government reimbursement changes, Munson Healthcare continues to provide our region’s communities and residents with high-quality health care that boasts technologies and expertise allowing residents to stay close to home.

At Munson Healthcare, we are reinforcing an already strong system of care that will ensure access to services for the decades to come. While the economic realities today mean smaller community hospitals will not have the full scope of care opportunities found at a referral center — like Munson Medical Center — collaboration within and outside the system allows for specialty care clinics close to home.

For example, cardiologists based in Traverse City now travel to system hospitals to offer regular visits with patients. The same occurs with oncologists from Cowell Family Cancer Center. And Munson Healthcare Manistee Hospital recently began a collaboration with Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital to offer a wound care clinic in Frankfort every Friday using Manistee providers.

Munson Healthcare also has collaborations with Helen De Vos Children’s Hospital to provide several pediatric specialty clinics in Traverse City. The list goes on.

Since the advent of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the health system has worked toward the transition from a fee-based model to a value-based system of health care. Providers and the hospitals are working together to eliminate unnecessary testing and expenses.

We currently continue our efforts to implement updated electronic medical record technology across the health system — a project begun in 2018. This helps reduce inefficiencies and duplicate testing because providers have real-time access to the patient record. If a patient treated in Grayling is transferred to Traverse City, staff in Traverse City would have access to any testing and results prior to transfer.

We are also working to strengthen our relationships with providers and wisely invest in the buildings and technology that make sense for the future.

In the past year, new outpatient and medical office facilities were opened in Manistee and Kalkaska, and Cadillac Hospital and Otsego Memorial Hospital have new and revised Surgical Services spaces. In Traverse City, a two-year project launched this fall aims to add four new operating rooms, expand and renovate the Central Processing area that prepares and sterilizes surgical equipment, and upgrades to waiting areas for patients’ families and loved ones.

As a rural health care system, unlike many others downstate, one challenge we face is that we are more heavily reliant on governmental payers for our funding.

More than 60 percent of our patients are enrolled in either Medicare or Medicaid. This reality sometimes creates uncertainties for long-term planning.

One day earlier this fall, we became aware of the possibility we would lose $5 million in support from Lansing for rural health care and obstetrical services. These areas have received state government support for the past several years. When these situations occur, we become advocates for our residents and patients with those holding the reins of power.

As we look the future, the ancient words of a Greek philosopher continue to ring clear: “The only thing that is constant is change.”

Our purpose as an organization is to improve lives. Our willingness to adapt to the changing needs of our patients and communities allows us to fulfill our role and maintain the continuity of close-to-home care for years to come.

We are up for the challenge — and the changes.

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