Muskegon Family Care is closing, leaving 20,000 patients scrambling to find health and dental care and 200-plus employees without jobs

Muskegon Family Care. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Muskegon Family Care informed its employees in an email Friday morning that the Muskegon Heights facility will close, leaving 200-plus employees without jobs and about 20,000 patients scrambling to figure out where they are going to access health and dental care, employees and patients said.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Kelly Bollenbach, who has worked at Muskegon Family care for 11 years. “I was hoping for a miracle, but they’re closing.”

It is unclear when Muskegon Family Care, located at 2201 S. Getty St., will shutter; one nurse said Friday morning they “canceled all the appointments and it may close today or Monday.” When we arrived at Muskegon Family Care around 1pm on Friday, security barred us from entering the facility and an employee who would not identify herself said they have not decided when the closure will happen. She said patients may call the facility to discuss the closure, access records, and fill prescriptions, among other health and dental care matters. Patients noted it has been difficult to access them by phone; when they call, there is often a busy signal or they are put on hold for such a long period of time that they ultimately have to hang up.

Muskegon Family Care has made no official statement regarding the closure. The facility wrote late Friday afternoon on its Facebook page that “we will be seeing scheduled patients in our clinic on Monday, February 17th.”

The closure will have a particularly devastating impact on low-income patients. About 79 percent of Muskegon Family Care’s 20,670 patients in 2018—the most recent year for which there are statistics—were at or below the federal poverty level, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Bureau of Primary Health Care.

The facility, which operated with a budget of about $20 million, according to a 2018 audit, provided a wide variety of services, including medical and dental care, behavioral health support, a pharmacy, and care for women and infants.

Hackley Community Care CEO Linda Juarez said her facility has been “barraged with patient and staff requests” following the news about Muskegon Family Care. 

“With an immediate closure like this, there’s no way the community can absorb all those patients in one day,” Juarez said. “Patients will fall through the cracks and end up in the ER or not get care at all. Staff will lose their jobs.”

Muskegon Family Care. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Muskegon Family Care was flooded Friday with people devastated by the news; many individuals said they were gravely concerned with how they’re going to find healthcare as 20,000 displaced patients attempt to do the same.

Amanda Hayes, who has been a patient at Muskegon Family Care for 16 years, went to an appointment with her youngest child at 8am this morning, when she was told they were having computer issues and to call next week. When she got home, she saw a Facebook post about the facility closing and returned in order to access healthcare records. 

“When we came back, they said people should get their records transferred as quickly as they can,” said Hayes, who spoke to the Muskegon Times on a sidewalk because security officials would not permit us to interview people in their building or parking lot.

“It breaks our hearts,” Hayes continued. “Not only are patients scrambling, but the employees just found out this morning. We’ve been going here for 16 years; they’ve become like family to us. Now they’re suffering the consequences of the CEO.”

The chief executive officer Hayes is referring to is former Muskegon Family Care CEO Sheila Bridges, who was fired late last year and consequently escorted from the property, according to employees and former employees who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity. Muskegon Family Care’s board named past Chief Operating Officer Mitze Alexander as the interim president and CEO. We were not able to reach Alexander for comment about the closure. Board members, who are listed here, could not be reached for comment. 

Muskegon Family Care has for years faced concerns and complaints regarding financial mismanagement. A 2014 evaluation by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration reported that top officials at Muskegon Family Care did not properly track how it used federal funds and violated its own bylaws and other policies during its 2010-2014 fiscal years.

In 2015, the Health Resources and Services Administration said the facility had turned itself around and had begun properly tracking its federal funds. However, another federal audit in 2017 found further “significant deficiencies.”

Employees have for years reported difficult working conditions at Muskegon Family Care; at a protest outside the facility in 2014, individuals described high turnover rates and intimidation from senior staff for speaking out about problems.

But many employees had worked there for years, and patients and employees said they often felt like family to one another.

“With a lot of those doctors in there, there’s almost a family feel,” said Krystal Lamb, a patient at Muskegon Family Care. “I had my [obstetrician] there, my dentist; we went there for everything. Now everyone’s panicking; we’ll be lucky to get in anywhere anytime soon.”

Lamb said she was at the facility for her son’s fourth-month checkup Friday morning when she discovered the center was closing.

“A nurse came in and told us they received an email that everyone was losing their jobs,” Lamb said. “Her makeup was smeared from crying; she’d probably found just 20 minutes ago.”

“I’ve been going to Muskegon Family Care with my two kids for a few years, and I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I can’t believe they’re closing just like that…I feel really awful for the doctors and nurses; it’s no way to find out, so suddenly and abruptly.”

Like everyone else with whom we spoke, Lamb said the closure is “going to hit the community hard.”

“This is going to negatively affect everybody—definitely low-income patients, but really the entire community,” she said. “It’s such a huge health center for us. Will people be able to take the influx of patients? We’ll have to go out further for healthcare.”

We will be following this story as it continues; if you have further information about the closure, you can email us at muskegontimes@gmail.com.

Story and photos by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing muskegontimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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