2017-04-06 / News

Hospital Officials Discuss How To Address Problems Facing Rural Healthcare

By Mike Grisdale
Marketing Director
Mackinac Straits Health System


Those attending a luncheon in Lansing to discuss rural health issues are (from left) Patrick Shannon, hospital board chair of Mackinac Straits Health System; 40th District State Representative Mike McCready; Marti Lolli of Priority Health; Rupesh Srivastava, CEO of Youngsoft, Inc.; Rodney Nelson, president and CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System; Rob Winkelman, chief of staff for State Representative Mike McCready; Crystal Barter, director of Performance Improvement with Michigan Center for Rural Health; Bill Hart, former policy director with Michigan Department of Community Health; Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; Chris Mitchell, senior vice president of advocacy for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association; Dr. John Martin of the Beaver Island Medical Center, and David Jahn, president and CEO of War Memorial Hospital. Those attending the luncheon but not pictured include Dennis Cawthorne, former chair of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission; Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, State Senator for the 37th District, and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Chatfield of Levering, State Representative for the 107th District. Those attending a luncheon in Lansing to discuss rural health issues are (from left) Patrick Shannon, hospital board chair of Mackinac Straits Health System; 40th District State Representative Mike McCready; Marti Lolli of Priority Health; Rupesh Srivastava, CEO of Youngsoft, Inc.; Rodney Nelson, president and CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System; Rob Winkelman, chief of staff for State Representative Mike McCready; Crystal Barter, director of Performance Improvement with Michigan Center for Rural Health; Bill Hart, former policy director with Michigan Department of Community Health; Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services; Chris Mitchell, senior vice president of advocacy for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association; Dr. John Martin of the Beaver Island Medical Center, and David Jahn, president and CEO of War Memorial Hospital. Those attending the luncheon but not pictured include Dennis Cawthorne, former chair of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission; Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, State Senator for the 37th District, and Speaker Pro Tem Lee Chatfield of Levering, State Representative for the 107th District. Health care remains a hot topic. Not just because of the political climate, but because it effects each and every one of us. Insurance rates, drug costs, and legal issues combine to make it a complex issue. Health is the biggest factor in our quality of life.


Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. No matter what aspect of health care you want to tackle, access to care is the starting point. Having the ability to see a provider, and having the ability to pay for care are vital. All of the state-of-the-art technology and the latest drugs won’t do you any good unless you have access.

While there are issues in all regions of the country concerning our health system, the obstacles faced by health care providers and patients in rural areas are vastly different than those in urban areas. Economic factors, cultural and social differences, educational shortcomings, lack of recognition by some governmental leaders, and the sheer isolation of living in remote areas all conspire to create disparities and impede rural residents in their struggle to lead normal, healthy lives.

According to the American Hospital Association, there is a health inequity across the country. Rural areas are facing a medical workforce shortage, residents have to travel further to reach a doctor or a hospital, accident rates are higher, and there is a higher rate of chronic disease and teenage suicide.

Several hospital officials organized an informal luncheon in Lansing to discuss rural health care issues with state legislators and representatives from health-related agencies in Michigan. Featured guests included Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and Crystal Barter, director of Performance Improvement for the Michigan Center for Rural Health (MCRH).

The focus of this gathering was access to care in rural areas of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, including the unique barriers facing island communities, especially Beaver, Bois Blanc, Drummond, and Mackinac islands. Several attendees stated how important this meeting was to rural health care across Michigan and especially their region.

“Those of us who live in northern Michigan are doubly blessed with the utter beauty of the environment and the quality of our health care,” said Patrick Shannon, board chair of Mackinac Straits Health System. “With initiatives like Governor Snyder’s Healthy Michigan plan, and the support of Nick Lyon, the Straits of Mackinac region has been fortunate to provide a valuable quality of care to not only our year-round residents, but the more than one million tourists who visit each year. Without the continuation of key governmental programs and the leadership of our state officials, I feel the ability to provide our high quality of care on the mainland and our islands would be tenuous, at best.”

“I am well aware of the critical need for primary care services in rural Michigan,” said David Jahn, president and chief executive officer of War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie. He also oversees the Drummond Island Medical Center. “For almost 10 years now, I have been on the board of the Michigan Center for Rural Health. Our goal is to help rural hospitals and providers across the state in maintaining these vital services. The Michigan Health and Human Services support is critical to providing access to these areas. Without it, Drummond Island residents would have to travel by ferry or airplane to Cedarville for primary care needs. This becomes a bigger barrier when facing mechanical issues or bad weather.”

Dr. John Martin is the medical director of the Beaver Island Health Center.

“Those of us living on Beaver Island fully understand the concept of being ‘rural’ when it comes to health care,” said Dr. Martin. “We are located 32 miles from the mainland. It is a long ferry ride to get to Charlevoix on a good day. During the winter months, the only way on or off the island is by aircraft. Imagine what it would be like on the island if you were a patient needing emergency treatment, or just trying to get an annual check-up and did not have access to a clinic here?”

According to Dr. Martin, “Without our health center there is no question that the lives of our residents and visitors would be seriously impacted. We are grateful in our state that we have people like Director Lyon and many governmental leaders that understand and support the rural health care system.”

“I am always glad to hear that our voices are being heard in Lansing,” said Margaret Doud, Mackinac Island mayor. She is also a board trustee with Mackinac Straits Health System and the Mackinac Island Medical Center. “We face unique challenges when it comes to providing health care on Mackinac Island, but we are very proud of the quality care our medical staff provides. The ability to provide these services depends on having a dedicated, highly trained staff and the latest technology. Without the support of state agencies and officials like Director Nick Lyon, we would not be able to provide the medical care our residents and visitors deserve.”

Mike McCready is a State Representative from the 40th District, representing part of Oakland County.

“It was my privilege to sit down with health care leaders to learn more about the challenges they face involving access to care in northern Michigan, especially the unique issues for island communities,” said Rep. McCready. “The ability to have competent health care professionals and up-to-date facilities is very important to the quality of life for all Michigan citizens, as well as the many visitors looking for that Pure Michigan experience.”

Chris Mitchell is the senior vice president of advocacy for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA).

“Preserving our network of small or rural hospitals has always been one of our key efforts, particularly when it comes to state funding,” said Mr. Mitchell. “The MHA has long believed that every single person in Michigan deserves access to care, as well as access to affordable coverage. Programs like the Healthy Michigan Plan have made a significant and meaningful difference to the quality of life in every region of the state, including northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Currently, there are more than 650,000 Michigan residents receiving coverage under the Healthy Michigan Plan. We are fortunate to have the support of Governor Snyder and MDHHS Director Nick Lyon in championing these efforts.”

“The services of the Mackinac Straits Health System and the Mackinac Island Medical Center are essential to our community,” said Dennis Cawthorne, former chair of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission and current business owner on the Island. “For nearly six months of the year we have only about 450 residents on the Island and it is critical that they have essential health care services, especially since we are frequently isolated by severe winter weather conditions. By contrast, we host nearly a million visitors during summertime and the need for medical services, especially emergency services, skyrockets. Without support from the state, and our generous donors, we would not be able to meet these extraordinary needs.”

“I have known Director Lyon for over 10 years,” said Rod Nelson, President and CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System. “He brings a wealth of policy, budget, and department operations expertise to his role with the MDHHS. We are fortunate to have his leadership at the state level as we face these current issues in health care.”

“We commend the legislature for appropriating funds to ensure that residents and visitors to our island communities have access to timely, quality health care,” said Crystal Barter, Director of Performance Improvement from the Michigan Center for Rural Health. “We are proud to administer and advocate for the Primary Care Island Grant funds, fully understanding the importance these dollars have in keeping these clinics open, providing the necessary infrastructure, technological and clinical updates.”

“It is a privilege for me to serve the residents of Michigan and I look forward to continued partnership with officials from northern Michigan on rural health issues”, said Nick Lyon, MDHHS Director. “There is nothing more important than the health of our families. Together with our local partners, we are committed to improving access to quality health care and better health outcomes for all Michigan residents.”

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