Who's Issue Is It Anyway

May 2, 2002
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Guess who's coming to the Chamber?

Grand Rapids Business Journal staff spent plenty of time last week getting an earful from business owners and politicians regarding the state legislative initiative to repeal the Michigan Department of Public Health Certificate of Need process. Observers chortled under their breath that what legislators believed was a forgone conclusion to kill CON was far from the truth. And the truth is having its heyday around the country.

If business owners around the state and hospital executives hold fat files of facts showing CON as a cost-effective tool in an industry otherwise out of control in cost escalation, who's idea was this?

Some have suggested that Michigan Department of Public Health Deputy Director Carol Isaacs is the fall guy. Testimony at public hearings has shown that CON works, but the process is stymied by lack of staff, and regulations which prohibit timely process. The wags on the sidelines note that physicians generally are opposed to the process, preferring that its community of servants be given every opportunity to use all new medical technology tools, er, toys. The point is made to help defend Isaacs, who is married to a physician, while others suggest she is defending business from regulation. But even those who actually define free enterprise welcome CONs. Isaacs' push for regulatory reduction is compared to the zeal of Texas Sen. Phil Gramm's wife, Wendy, who as chairman of the U.S. Commodity Future Trading Commission ultimately provided loopholes, some of which were blamed for a portion of the Enron debacle.

The first mention of the process related to two issues that surfaced last summer. First, it became known that State Sen. William Van Regenmorter, R-Jenison, last year was baffled by the lack of PET scanners in the state. His personal involvement in a family member's need to drive to east Michigan for tests was the awakening.

Not much later Metropolitan Hospital CEO Michael Faas worried that CON standards would cause problems for his want to move Metro to the south end of Kent County. In this case, Faas need not have worried; Metro provided the classic exception to the rule. Still, foot-in-mouth Faas talked long of "enemies" in the east (Michigan), garnered the support of area legislators to (illegally) tack an amendment on to a budget bill providing for Metro, perceived some need to hire an attorney to assist Metro's success and then made a mockery of his own budget numbers during hearings for Metro, even denouncing those he provided as "impossible" budget numbers.

Metropolitan board member, former legislator and 2001 Kent County GOP Chairman Vic Krause also worried. The timeline then shows that State Sen. GlennSteil became incensed about the impediments of regulation on the business of health care. (Steil succeeded Krause as GOP chairman.) While Steil's vigilance in regulatory matters is generally appreciated, in this case no one wanting to be named believes he was duped. Some business owners believe legislators do not understand the risk of escalating health care costs in terms of benefits to Michigan employees, and are quick to add that business owners and all Michigan residents pay for legislators' health care, and only those who pay their own health bills "get it."

The Business Journal has learned that Deputy Director Isaacs has now been extended the courtesy of presenting her views to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce health care committee on March 5, of which GRACC President JohnBrown is a staff member. The Chamber has already endorsed CON as an important process, reflecting the stated and reiterated views of its members.

So, one wonders, whaaat's uuuup?

  • Why is it that it's always the newcomer who can so articulately point out the every day absurdities and nuances of life on our little corner of the planet.

Such was the case recently at the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce's monthly Early Bird Breakfast with TonyCastillo, who came to the area last year from New Mexico when he bought three McDonald's restaurant franchises.

In beginning his remarks about a serious topic, diversity, Castillo couldn't help but make light of some of the native traits and characteristics that are uniquely Michigan. His first target: "lake effect" and the mysterious role it has on snowfalls and the comparatively cooler temperatures experienced in the summer and warmer temperatures felt in the winter in communities that line the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Why, he asked, are so many things involving the weather blamed on "lake effect."

Remembering a customer who was having a particularly bad hair day recently, Castillo said she told him "it must be the lake effect."

Next up — Michigan's notorious indirect left turns.

"What is the problem in Michigan with turning left? I like going direct," said Castillo, who also finds Michigan's unique geographic formation of particular interest.

"The Mitt," he said, holding up his hand and pointing out Holland just below the knuckle of his little finger. "All states should be in the shape or form of a body part."

  • Seems like we've read this one before.

The recently released book "A Death in Chambers," by DanSummerfield, revolves around a plot familiar to many Grand Rapidians — a female District Court Judge fatally shot in her chambers by her estranged husband, a 20-year veteran of the local police department.

But don't jump to any conclusions just yet.

Note the author's disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction. The story and plot, as well as the characters, their thoughts, actions and motivations, are products of the author's imagination."

A work of fiction, the first-time author and "former broadcaster" says, yet the book momentarily — and stupidly — lapses from fiction to nonfiction: On page 109 either the author or his copy editor slipped big time, referring to the victim as "Judge Irons" in one sentence and in the following sentence by the first name "Carol."

Hmm. Now that really does sound familiar.

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