By Sterling McGinn

The Helen Newberry Joy Hospital may soon be a non-profit organization.

In an attempt to collaborate with other health organizations and to secure additional funding and services, hospital officials have been working toward restructuring as a traditional 501c3 not-for-profit health organization. As for the residents nearby, they can read about medical plans like that on in order to learn about their benefits especially when going to such hospitals.

For the switch to be possible, the Michigan legislature first had to approve a bill that specifically allows a county hospital in a county of more than 5,000 people but less than 7,500 people – only Luce County meets that qualification – to transition into a non-profit entity. That bill, Senate Bill 513, was signed into law by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in December 2023.

Next, Luce County had to agree to release the hospital from county oversight. The Luce County Board of Commissioners agreed to the change at their regular meeting on February 20.

The hospital says the shift is not designed to make the hospital marketable to be sold. At the January commission meeting, Dr. Michael Beaulieu, a hospital board trustee, specifically addressed a rumor that the hospital was seeking non-profit status to sell to another health system. Dr. Beaulieu assured the board that the hospital will continue to operate as an independent community health care facility as long as possible.

Hospital CEO Hunter Nostrant affirmed that stance at last week’s commission meeting.

“I know Dr. Beaulieu made a comment last month that there are no implications of acquisition, merger or affiliation associated with that,” said hospital CEO Hunter Nostrant. “It is to pursue additional services and grant opportunities and we will be more structured like the majority of the hospitals across the state.”

Restructuring will move the healthcare center from a quasi-government entity to a free-standing nonprofit corporation.

For many years, Helen Newberry Joy Hospital has been backed by the Luce County Board of Commissioners, though the day-to-day operations are managed on a private level. The hospital does not receive any funding through a millage or through the county. The change will also relieve the county from all liability of the hospital.

Commissioner Christine Rathje asked if the MERS retirement program will still be available.

“The MERS program has been frozen since 1999, so there is no change to that,” Nostrant explained. “With our conversations with our legal team, there are no changes to the benefits and, we will actually offer more benefits…If there are any sort of things that come out, we don’t have to continue down this path if something comes up that would create a negative impact.”

After discussion, the board passed a resolution allowing for the hospital to begin the restructuring plan. “From the information I gathered, I think this is a really good move for this hospital,” said Commissioner Brandon Wheeler.

The hospital board has prepared fact sheets and a frequently asked questions form, which is available on their website.

In other news, both Luce and Mackinac County commissioners will meet at a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 4 in the big courtroom regarding the status of the Big Manistique Lake dam, which has been the subject of great controversy.

“The objective of the meeting March 4 is to pass a resolution to start a new committee, which will put us in compliance with EGLE (Environment Great Lakes and Energy),” said commissioner Wheeler. “The biggest issue here is the way that it is operating now, it is not in compliance.”