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A view of the Bay

Robert Downes - June 7th, 2010
A View of the Bay
Is a “view of the bay” still worth “half the pay” in Northern Michigan? I
have a story to share about that old saying.
Years ago, I was indirectly involved in landing the 2,000 or so employees
of Munson Medical Center what was perhaps the biggest raise in the
hospital’s history.
Back in the ’80s, I served as a writer in the hospital’s public relations
department. It was a wonderful job that involved creating the hospital’s
Intercom newsletter and writing stories about the life and death struggles
of patients as well as of the doctors, nurses and staffers who were doing
their best to bring them back to health.
But Munson wasn’t known for the generosity of its pay, and the
administration had an annual habit of telling the employees that there was
no money in the budget for a raise, while building another multi-million
dollar addition or treatment center each year.
One year the grumbling among employees was particularly bad, especially
among the nurses, who pointed out that their counterparts downstate were
making a lot more money. But administration held to its guns: there was
no dough, Joe.
Part of my job was media relations, and it just happened at that time that
a local television station decided to do a big story on why Munson was
such a roaring success. As I was taking the reporter down to
then-president Jack Bay’s office for the interview, the reporter asked me
why I thought Munson was so successful.
“I think that part of it is that ‘view of the bay is half the pay’ thing,”
I said, repeating the often-heard comment about the economic realities of
life in Northern Michigan. I mentioned that the nurses were upset about
the disparity of their pay compared to their counterparts out yonder. “But
you didn’t hear that from me,” I added.
That became the theme of the interview, and when the reporter asked Jack
Bay about the “view of the bay being half the pay” angle, Bay chuckled at
the similarity to his own last name and admitted there was some truth to
Needless to say, the employees went bananas when the interview ran that
night and within a matter of days, Munson’s administration announced a big
hospital-wide raise -- especially for the nurses and professional staff --
to bring pay rates more in line with what was being offered downstate. By
a quirk of fate, I myself received a whopping 30% pay increase (sounds
crazy, but that’s what I recall) -- in line with what PR types were being
paid at other hospitals.
But I doubt I would have gotten that raise if the guys in the front office
had known about my comment to the reporter. More likely, a pink slip and
the boot.
The irony is that I was so happy to be living here and working at Munson
that money wasn’t even a consideration. I wouldn’t have moved back to the
Detroit area for twice what I was making in Traverse City.
So here’s a question: Is a “view of the bay” still worth “half the pay”
to live in Northern Michigan?
Maybe not if you live the typical American consumer lifestyle that
revolves around the TV set, dining at the chains, and shopping at the mall
and the big box stores. If so, then a move to a city like Phoenix or
Houston might seem more attractive. The pay is surely better, if not the
But those of us who love the outdoors and the small town lifestyle live by
a different standard. If you love to go biking, fishing, kayaking,
running, hiking or to the beach every day after work, your life is filled
with the kind of riches that money can’t buy in a big city. If you love
living in a small town where street parties, festivals and gallery walks
are common occurrences and you’re sure to bump into friends among the
imaginative shops and restaurants on any trip downtown, you know you’ve
struck it rich in spirit by living here, if not in your paycheck.
That’s why many of us are so passionate and outspoken in our defense of
Northern Michigan against destructive schemes such as the biomass power
plant proposals, the contamination at Bay Harbor and reckless development.
That’s why we take an active interest in the health of our lakes and
rivers; in building bike paths and walkable communities; and in supporting
our independent merchants and restaurateurs. We love Northern Michigan as
a treasure unto itself.

The Munson Merger
Speaking of Munson, there’s been a lot of confusion over the past few
months about the possible merits -- or downside -- of merging with
Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.
On one hand, the abundant resources of Spectrum would cut administrative
costs at Munson Healthcare (MHC) and strengthen treatment services in
Northern Michigan. On the other hand, some Munson employees worry about
losing local control, and possibly risking their pensions.
So the go-slow approach being taken by Munson’s administration seems wise.
What’s the hurry for an institution that‘s been a force for health and
progress in our community for more than 100 years?
Worth noting, the residents of Northern Michigan already have a model for
what happens when a large health care system absorbs a smaller
organization. How did hospitals in Frankfort, Kalkaska, Northport, Gaylord
and other communities fare when they merged with Munson Healthcare? Did
services increase when local control was handed over to MHC, or were there
cutbacks? Did the employees of these hospitals benefit from the mergers
with MHC? Did the patients benefit?
Our own local example provides a microcosm of how we might fare in
Spectrum’s universe.

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