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Returning to community-oriented model, Frankfort’s Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital adds inpatient care

Courtesy of Munson Healthcare


Reversing the trend of many rural hospitals across the country, Munson Healthcare’s Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital is offering inpatient services to Benzie area residents again.

Now, patients can get treated for congestive heart failure, cellulitis and pneumonia, as well as get end of life care, among other services.

The hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nancy Smith said in a statement the change was necessary because people were driving an hour to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, assuming they wouldn’t be able to be treated at their local hospital.

“And for many years, that was true,” Dr. Smith said. “If there was a possibility that a patient would need to be admitted, we sent them to Traverse City. But we’re changing that standard procedure, and that narrative.”

Paul Oliver offers outpatient services including physical and occupational therapy, lab and imaging work and long-term care. But Smith said it needs to do more for its patients.

“An essential piece of rural hospitals today is getting patients the emergency and acute care they need close to home,” she said.

In the 1990s, many rural hospitals across the country closed inpatient care, which was costly to operate.

Paul Oliver followed suit, which led to many Benzie County residents being transferred to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City for issues that require hospitalization including COPD, influenza and Gastroenteritis.

But the outsourcing of care was felt by the community, Manager of Outreach Stephanie Williams says.

In 2018, the Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital's Board of Trustees heard from community members said long drives were a strain on elderly patients and families who wanted to visit but don’t have transportation. Williams says board members also consulted with the local EMS, who reported the ambulance rides took needed response vehicles out of the community. Paul Oliver is 37 miles away from Munson Medical Center. 

So hospital leaders decided to bring back its acute care unit, adding four beds for in-patient treatment. The unit shares staff with the emergency department, but they also hired doctors and paramedics. They began accepting patients in the fall.

Approximately 120 to 160 Benzie County residents are admitted to a Munson hospital each year, according to Williams. She says 20 to 30 percent of those patients have conditions that can be treated now at the Frankfort hospital. 

Among those are patients with dementia. 

“Busy large emergency rooms and acute care floors can be a lot for a person with dementia to handle,” Williams says. “(The Paul Oliver unit) is just a much quieter environment where they can get that care.”

She says the acute care unit was planned for in 2018, and began operating in the fall 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic and Munson Healthcare’s financial struggles. Williams says the hospital network’s restructuring doesn’t impact the unit.

Furthermore, the four beds won’t be used for people with COVID-19, she says. Munson is treating those patients at its three COVID-treatement designated hospitals in Traverse City, Cadillac and Grayling.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.