Health Care Hill

April 16, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Its landscape dominated by Spectrum Health's Butterworth Campus, the stretch of Michigan Street leading from downtown began taking on an even clearer identity in 2001 as a center for health care.

Construction of two new buildings — Spectrum's $86 million Heart Center and Grand Valley State University's $57.1 million Center for Health Professions — began last year, furthering the evolution of what's becoming known as Health Care Hill and marking the concentration of an economic dynamo for the region.

The emergence of Health Care Hill and its anticipated spin-off developments in the surrounding neighborhood, as well as the resulting creation of new jobs, holds great benefits not just for the local health care industry but all of Grand Rapids.

So says Lody Zwarensteyn, president of the health care planning agency Alliance for Health. "The impacts are obvious and significant," Zwarensteyn said.

"Given the interplay of services, employment, research, education and their attendant needs, the effects on the neighborhood are and will continue to be significant.

"Already the commercial area is seeing the conversion of other buildings to medical and support services uses," he said.

"The concentration of health care resources in the downtown area provides a very significant resource for area residents, and it also concentrates an economic dynamo."

The five-story, 215,000-square-foot GVSU Center for Health Professions, located at Michigan Street and Lafayette Avenue, will sit within the shadows of the Spectrum Health-Butterworth Campus, the Van Andel Institute and the Cook Institute on Michigan Street.

GVSU plans to relocate its life sciences and health courses from its Allendale campus to the Center for Health Professions.

The rationale for the decision to place the courses closer to the area's largest hospitals and research institutes is that the location offers more opportunities and exposure for students and faculty to do research and gain practical experience.

When it opens in 2003, the center will house GVSU's Kirkhof School of Nursing, the School of Health Professions, and other nursing and life science programs.

"It is sort of a fulfillment of a special mission for health care in our town," Richard DeVos, chairman of the GVSU Foundation, said during a May 23 ceremonial groundbreaking for the center.

"What an amazing combination of things that are going to happen up here … when we begin to think of the integration of services that we have," DeVos said.

"We're not building a new medical center, we're building a new industry for West Michigan, as one of the major employers and empowering forces in our economy is taking place up here."

Spectrum began adding to the emerging landscape on the Hill when it started work in November on the Heart Center on the southwest corner of Michigan Street and Barclay Avenue.

The Heart Center, according to Spectrum CEO Rich Breo, will provide the region "a level of care that is found only in the top hospitals in the country."

Weeks before the Heart Center's groundbreaking, Spectrum rolled out a 15-year facilities plan that includes a $13 million expansion of the emergency, laboratory, radiology and radiation oncology departments at the Butterworth Campus, a $35 million outpatient cancer center in downtown Grand Rapids and an eventual replacement for DeVos Children's Hospital.

The long-term plan follows Spectrum's intent to eventually consolidate inpatient medical services at the downtown Butterworth Campus.

The thinking in doing so is to generate further cost savings in the wake of the 1997 Blodgett-Butterworth merger that created the health system.

Another component of the same plan is to extend outpatient services outward through the development of new ambulatory and outpatient facilities not only in Kent County, but also in Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

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