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July 9, 2004

Munson, Tendercare to develop skilled nursing facility

Northport office to close at end of the year

Record-Eagle staff writer

      TRAVERSE CITY - Munson Healthcare and Tendercare Inc. will work together to develop a new skilled nursing facility in Leelanau County, possibly near Suttons Bay.
      It will replace the long-term care unit at Leelanau Memorial Health Center in Northport that will close at year's end.
      "It's a chance to build a new facility to modern standards and have existing staff and residents move into the new environment," said Tim Lukenda, Tendercare president and CEO.
      LMHC opened in 1957. Munson took over in 1997 and decided to close the 72-bed long-term care unit and 23-bed hospital in April because of financial losses, increased competition and dwindling patient numbers.
      The LMHC board projected the hospital would lose $5.5 million over the next five years while Munson officials estimated at least another $5 million would be needed for infrastructure improvements.
      Kathy Garthe, LMHC CEO, said the long-term care facility remained successful. It's main issues were location and the building itself, considered obsolete by current medical standards.
      The new facility would be built, owned and operated by Tendercare. LMHC residents would remain in Northport for up to 24 months during construction, possibly in Suttons Bay, which is about 12 miles south of Northport.
      "It's where the greatest growth of Leelanau took place between 2000 and 2002 so it would have the greatest need in the future," Garthe said of the new location.
      Northport resident Sarah Robinson was upset about plans to close the hospital because her 84-year-old mother spends time at the long-term care facility, reading to residents or using the fitness center.
      "My mother had every intention of going there once she was incapable of taking care of herself," Robinson said. "She would be thrilled if there was still something in the county."
      Lukenda and Garthe could not say exactly how many of LMHC's 150 staff members would move to the new long-term care facility.
      "We believe half to two-thirds of the current staff will find positions within long-term care," Garthe added. "We will make every effort to provide jobs within the Munson system for the remaining staff."
      A new Tendercare facility would receive the same federal funding as LMHC, Lukenda said. Any increase for private pay rates would be determined by market needs, which also could call for a different mix of short and long-term residents.
      Tendercare currently owns and operates 35 health centers, including Tendercare of Traverse City and Tendercare of Birchwood.

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