Refurbishing Progressing: Medical Care Facility renovation is ahead of schedule

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette A tower that will contain dining facilities is seen in progress.

HOUGHTON — Work at the Houghton County Medical Care Facility is a little less than half done and progressing ahead of schedule.

Construction on the $8.5 million project started in March, including renovations on the ground and first floors and the addition of 12,500 square feet for dining.

“It’s been progressing pretty well, actually,” said Tammi Lehto, administrator of the facility.

The facility’s beauty salon was relocated and renovated. A residential wing on the first-floor nursing unit was redone; another wing is still in the process. The therapy space on the ground floor has been redone, as has the community floor.

“We’re currently working on ground-floor space, where it’s going to be brand-new resident rooms,” Lehto said.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Construction progresses on the ground floor of the Houghton County Medical Care Facility. The $8.5 million construction project began in March.

A tower on the south wing of the building is going up that will house dining rooms and kitchen for the first-, second- and third-floor units.

The number of beds will stay at 197. However, those beds will be relocated to other areas of the building, including 16 private resident rooms on the ground floor for short-term stay after hospital services.

Construction has been ahead of schedule, although work this week has been delayed due to rain, said Gerry Jarvey, business manager for the facility.

There have been surprises. In the new beauty salon — formerly Lehto’s office — crews discovered an old laundry chute sealed behind the wall, presumably a leftover from its days as a tuberculosis sanitarium.

By the end of the year, the resident wing on the first floor should be complete; so should the ground-floor resident rooms and dining room/kitchen space. As for the tower, the first-floor area is expected to be finished by March or April, followed within a couple of months by the second and third floors.

One of the last things to be completed will be the conversion of the current dining rooms to activity space and restorative nursing. The “Main Street” concept for the first floor, which includes the beauty salon, will also be finished.

Over the next few years, Lehto said, the facility needs to upgrade the rest of the second and third floor.

“It’s our hope that in the near future, in the few years down the road, that we’ll be able to go in and redo all those resident rooms just like we’re doing on our first floor,” she said.

One idea recently discussed at the County Board level was giving voters the option reallocating money from the medical care facility’s millage to pay for the expansion of a county jail. The board later dropped the idea.

Jarvey said the facility keeps about six months of cash reserves. While the work through next summer has been funded, some of that money will go towards the upgrades in the rest of the building.

“We definitely can use it to further improve the facility,” he said.

Lehto said the diversion, which would have amounted to about $400,000 annually, could also have cut into operating expenses for the facility.

The facility will look at figures from the state’s survey of nursing homes to determine what to do with its housing. The nursing home population statewide has dropped a bit in recent years, he said.

“If we don’t need as many beds in the community, we can make more of our rooms private,” he said. “A lot of our two-bedrooms are just tiny, and the bedrooms, they’re not handicapped (accessible). So you make the bathroom bigger, and that’s going to make even less room in those two-bedrooms … if it doesn’t drop, then there’s the alternative of building up in the other wings and just adding more rooms, so we get more private rooms that way. It’s kind of a wait-and-see for us.”