Muskegon Family Care closes

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– Photo by Cynthia Price

By Cynthia Price

Muskegon Family Care, the Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC) on Getty Street, announced Feb. 14 that it is closing its doors, and at that time let go almost 75% of its employees.

In between that date and the closing on March 31, the management of the health center says it is going to try to help its numerous mostly-low-income patients – estimated at over 20,000 – ­ to find other health care.

The closing followed other warning signals that all was not well, such as the termination of Muskegon Family Care’s Chief Executive Sheila Bridges right after Thanksgiving 2019, and the failure since then to pay outside providers when payment was due.

FQHC medical providers, often called community health centers, receive funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Back in 2014, it was widely reported that the organization under Bridges, who is also the author of From the Ghetto to CEO, was not following guidelines that FQHCs must. At the time mLive, which had obtained the audit through a Freedom of Information Act request, said that the HRSA audited the center and “found that the clinic had failed to comply with 11 out of 19 conditions required of the HRSA-supported health center grantee.” Problems identified included an excessive amount of spending on a failed fund-raiser, and a nearly-$10,000 board retreat. There were also problems with board size and the way in which board members were terminated, and many other things.

Once these infractions are discovered by the HRSA, according to its guidelines, “Should a health center fail to adequately address conditions ..., HRSA may utilize available remedies, including terminating all or part of the Federal award/designation status before the health center’s current project end date. Muskegon Family Care’s most recent grant period is from 2019 to 2022.

In 2017, an audit by Yeo and Yeo P.C. confirmed continued irregularities, saying, “The results of our tests disclosed instances of noncompliance,  or other matters that are required to be reported under Government Auditing Standards ...”

And apparently at least some employees of Muskegon Family Care are under investigation for embezzling.

Regardless of the reasons for the closure, patients are upset that they will be left high and dry. On Feb. 15, a group of 20 or so got together very quickly to rally in front of the facility.

One of the people who attended, obviously upset, asked, “What are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go? We don’t have any money, we don’t know how to find out.”

Patients may not have far to go. Hackley Community Care is another federally-funded community health center, which offers a very similar range of services to Muskegon Family Care. Under the able leadership of Linda Juarez (as previously covered in the Examiner), Hackley Community Care has become a fixture in its Baker Street location in Muskegon, as well as offering a medical center on Leahy Street and an integrative health clinic at 376 Apple Ave.

Naturally, an influx of all the patients serviced would be overwhelming, but Hackley Community Care says it will accommodate as many as it can, and has hired new staff to do so.

HealthWest is also assisting Muskegon Family Care customers in the substance abuse and mental health service areas.

“The announced closure of Muskegon Family Care is devastating to our community,” said HealthWest Executive Director Julia Rupp said in a statement.

“We want those receiving mental health or substance use services from Muskegon Family Care to know that HealthWest is here and will do whatever we can to assist them through this transition.

“HealthWest serves as part of our community’s public safety net when it comes to mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance use services. We take [that] role seriously and situations like this show just how important these resources are for our community,” she added. 

To access this, people should call 231-720-3200 and identify themselves as former Muskegon Family Care clients.

On another front, it only took until Monday before former Muskegon Family Care employees sued the facility under federal laws, claiming they are owed unused vacation time pay and 60 days of wages and benefits.

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