Political Posturing Can’t Help Metro Hospital Again

May 6, 2002
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Legislative maneuvering in Lansing to allow Metropolitan Hospital to relocate has again failed, although it could come up again in the future should a state panel next week decline to enact a rule change affecting hospital relocations in Michigan.

The amendment, inserted into a bill requiring criminal background checks for nursing employees and creating a provider tax on nursing homes designed to leverage Medicaid funding, would have allowed Metro to move without a public review as long as it met certain criteria.

The amendment was removed prior to Senate and House passage of the bill, yet it provides further legislative pressure and is seen as an indication that lawmakers are ready to act if the CON Commission doesn’t grant final approval on May 15 for a new hospital relocation standard that benefits Metro.

Even the lawmaker who had the amendment pulled, Sen. Bob Emerson, D-Flint, indicated a willingness to take up Metro’s cause if the CON Commission “doesn’t do the right thing.”

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make sure Metro gets what the people of the community want,” Emerson said.

The senator opposed the amendment because it was added without any discussion and was not needed, given CON Commission’s scheduled vote.

“To amend something on the Senate floor and sneak an issue in there, I think, is inappropriate,” Emerson said.

A carefully worded statement from Metro issued Thursday morning said executives were “surprised but pleased” to learn of the new legislative effort, and that there was “widespread support for helping Metropolitan Hospital,” which contends that it is landlocked at its present location and needs a new site and facility if it is to survive.

But a faction of Metro’s supporters preferred to see the matter resolved through the CON Commission, and not the Legislature, Metro’s statement said.

“They prevailed in shifting the focus back to the regulatory process, but at the same time served notice that they wanted Metropolitan Hospital to be allowed to move,” Metro stated.

Jim Childress, Metro’s vice president for marketing and communications, declined comment beyond the statement.

Sen. Joel Gougeon, R-Bay City, who purportedly inserted the Metro amendment into the legislation, could not be reached for comment.

Some see the legislative amendment on behalf of Metro as a bad precedent that would only encourage others to follow suit and seek legislative remedies on their own individual issues.

“You send a signal that any time someone wants to do something, all you have to do is sneak something into a bill,” Emerson said.

Among the parties that are opposed to the amendment is the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

The association believes the issue rests with CON Commission, especially at a time when a final resolution is imminent. The association also doesn’t want to see one hospital receive special treatment over all the other hospitals in the state.

“We’re very supportive of the CON process rather than legislative fixes for individual instances,” said Pat Foley, the association’s communications director. “We prefer to see the process continue to work.”

The process, with the latest attempt in the Legislature to help Metro, has now been circumvented twice as a way to get the hospital the OK it needs to move. Metro last summer had local lawmakers insert language into a Department of Community Health appropriations bill to essentially allow it to move.

That amendment, which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional and unenforceable, angered groups that had been working with Metro to convince the CON Commission to change hospital relocations standards, which presently prohibit a hospital from relocating more than two miles in a market deemed to have an excess of beds, as Kent County does. Metro wants to move 10 miles from its present southeast side location in Grand Rapids to a new suburban setting in Wyoming.

Despite the hard feelings that still linger today and the sometimes contentious discussions that have occurred over the past several months, the process continued on and culminated April 11 when the CON Commission approved and sent for public comment a new standard that would establish the conditions under which a hospital may relocate more than two miles from its present site.

Metro President and CEO Mike Faas said in the days following the vote that the health system can meet the criteria set down in the new hospital relocation standard.

“At this point, we are happy with that,” Faas said. “Metro and West Michigan can live with the criteria laid down for us.”

Once it takes effect, the new standard will give Metropolitan Health Corp., the hospital’s parent company, the ability to begin seeking state approval to relocate to Wyoming, where it wants to build a new $155 million hospital that would anchor a “health care village.”

Faas last month said he expects that Metro, presuming the standard wins final adoption and takes effect in late June following legislative concurrence, will file a letter of intent with the state Department of Community Health this summer and follow it up with a formal application within 12 months.

Submittal of a formal application to the state may not come until next year, Faas said.

“All this really does is open the door and start the process,” he said of the pending rule change. “We haven’t started yet. Now we start.”

While he believes the proposed relocation standard will work for Metro, Faas expressed frustration that the process has taken so long.

Metro unveiled its health care village plan more than a year ago and has worked for more than two years to build support for changing the relocation standard, a process that was slowed as the CON Commission and others preferred to work from a statewide perspective affecting all hospitals, rather than tackle a rule change that only affects Metro.

“The process was taking too long, with too many players with too many points of view,” he said last month.           

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