Saline leaders call on medical group over broken-up talks for new health facility

SALINE, MI — The return of health facilities to Saline is a top priority after years of closure and limited service, according to city leaders.

Against that backdrop, a statement this week targeted a recent “setback” caused by broken negotiations with the IHA, a major Michigan physician group and emergency center operator.

Saline Councilor Jack Ceo, secretary of a city health care task force aimed at attracting providers to the city, delivered the planned remarks during a city council meeting Monday, Jan. 24, and urged the IHA to stop the talks about to abruptly cancel an offer for land in an urban industrial park.

IHA made an offer on land west of Zippy Auto Wash on East Michigan Avenue, and city leaders chose to continue negotiations on other offers due to the need for medical services at Saline, the CEO said. But the potential deal fell through after city officials and their realtor came forward to begin talks, he said.

“IHA declined to discuss the offer further. Instead, they indicated that they would consider other site options without hearing the city’s concerns about their proposal,” CEO said.

“We are making this statement to alert the citizens of Saline and our larger community to the nature of the response, or should I say lack thereof, that has been made by the IHA,” he added, promising that officials would continue to work to attract a health care service to the community.

However, not all can be lost.

Saline Mayor Brian Marl said Friday he has since communicated with the president of IHA and understands that the group, headquartered in Ann Arbor and a subsidiary of St. Joseph Mercy Health System, is exploring other options in the greater Saline area.

In an emailed statement, IHA spokeswoman Amy Middleton said the group “values ​​the partnership with the city in identifying community health care needs” and recognizes the need for local services.

The package in question is no longer an option for IHA due to its size, but it is “committed to building a new medical center that will provide these services and is actively negotiating other options that fit our needs,” Middleton said.

Talks with the IHA about the package are nothing new and date back at least to 2018, according to The Saline Post.

There’s a lot at stake for Marl.

“Look at where we’ve been in the last ten years,” the mayor said. “We lost a community hospital that later became Trinity Health/St. Joe, then we lost inpatient care, then we lost the ER, and then they subsequently closed our ER. The path we have taken is not good.”

In 2020, Marl said he petitioned the city council to create the Health Care Improvement Task Force, which has since worked to research and document needs in the Saline region while building relationships with providers.

In late 2021, a city negotiation team received written communication from IHA expressing interest in Lot 20A at the East Michigan Avenue Industrial Park, Marl said.

The city’s response was positive, “but also indicated a desire to see some level of service on site if the property were to be sold and developed by IHA,” he said.

The city then learned from the IHA that it was no longer interested in talking about the package, Marl said.

Still, his conversation with the medical group’s leadership this week was “positive and upbeat,” he said, forecasting more talks in the coming months.

“I have stressed for many months that the lack of quality healthcare facilities in the Saline community is very problematic,” Marl said.

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