Hospitals Grow With West Michigan

May 30, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The coming year marks the beginning of a wave of hospital construction in West Michigan the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years.

As Metropolitan Health begins the regulatory review process for its proposal to build a new suburban hospital campus in Wyoming that’s expected to cost upwards of $150 million, Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center each will break ground this fall on major construction projects.

Spectrum’s $88.4 million heart hospital will become the latest addition to Grand Rapids’ “Health Care Hill” along Michigan Street, on the northeast side of downtown, while Saint Mary’s will knock down the aging McAuley Building on Cherry Street to make way for the Richard J. Lacks Sr. Cancer Treatment Center.

Those projects, combined with smaller construction plans at hospitals in Ottawa and Muskegon counties, reflect the changes that are occurring within the community and within each organization, said Keith Burns, a health-care consultant and managing partner of the Grand Rapids office of Ernst & Young.

“It merely reflects the growth of our community and the fact that these providers are feeling needs that the community is going to have as it grows,” Burns said. “It’s not atypical of what’s going on in any sector of the country right now.”

While broader factors such as caring for an aging population and upgrading older facilities come into play, executives at each of the three Grand Rapids-area hospitals cite distinctly different reasons as the driving forces behind their respective projects.

The net results will be new, modern facilities that are designed to better meet a growing population base and are in tune with its needs, said Lody Zwarensteyn, president of the health-care planning agency Alliance for Health in Grand Rapids.

“The hospitals are reinvesting and that’s not all bad,” Zwarensteyn said. “It’s says we’re keeping up.”

Spectrum Health’s new seven-story Heart and Vascular Center is largely the result of plans to consolidate inpatient medical services from the Blodgett campus in East Grand Rapids to the downtown Butterworth campus, Chief Executive Officer Rick Breon said.

Further consolidation at the Butterworth campus will drive additional construction there in the future, Breon said.

“It’s likely we’ll need new facilities to address continued consolidation,” Breon said.

The new heart hospital will house cardiac operating rooms, catheterization labs, a 40-bed intensive care floor, and a medical-surgical floor with 48 telemetry-equipped beds. Spectrum will leave the new center’s fifth floor unoccupied and plans to use the space in the future for a 40-bed critical care unit.

Spectrum expects to have the center complete and occupied by early 2004. Among the future possible projects at the downtown campus are the expansion of cancer treatment services and DeVos Children’s Hospital, Breon said.

An improved financial outlook, generous donations, a need to replace aging facilities and an expected growth in cancer cases for years to come led Saint Mary’s to undertake development of the Lacks Cancer Treatment Center, CEO Phil McCorkle said.

While Saint Mary’s idea for a cancer hospital has evolved over a number of years, financial pressures during the late 1990s took precedent. As the financial picture improved, Saint Mary’s decided to go ahead with the project, as well as two renovation projects, McCorkle said.

“We’re coming off a very difficult financial time for hospitals and health-care organizations,” he said. “Some of our projects, I think, are long overdue.”

“We’re a little on borrowed time and need to play catch-up,” he said.

Saint Mary’s, which is financing the project completely through philanthropy, will break ground on the Lacks Cancer Treatment Center next spring, once it completes demolition of the McAuley Building. The five-level, 40-bed cancer center will consolidate many of the medical services cancer patients require, as well as offer services designed to support a person’s emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Double-sized patient rooms will enable friends and family members to stay with a patient, and the center’s roof will feature a garden, enclosed walkway and indoor atrium where patients can relax.

With a hospital facility approaching 30 years old and not suitable to house the new style of cancer treatment planned, Saint Mary’s concluded that development of a facility was required, McCorkle said.

“Our facilities were old and cancer care needed to be provided in a different kind of environment,” he said.

Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, is presently going through a $1.3 million renovation of its emergency department that’s designed to enable the hospital to better segregate and fast-track non-emergency cases, Chief Operating Office Jim Miller said. The ER project is scheduled for completion in August.

Saint Mary’s is also planning a 13-month, $1.5 million to $2 million renovation for four hospital floors and 200 rooms for this summer, Miller said.

The most ambitious project planned for the area is Metropolitan Hospital’s proposed relocation and development of what’s been described as a “health care village” at Gezon Parkway and Byron Center Avenue, on the border of the city of Wyoming and Byron Township.

Metro hopes to begin construction by the summer of 2002 and occupy the new campus in 2005.

Metro’s first step is to secure a waiver from the Michigan Department of Community Health to relocate more than two miles from its present campus, a move existing state rules prohibit. If successful in securing the waiver, Metro would then seek a certificate of need (CON) from the state to build the new facility.

Metro also needs to arrange financing for the project, which will cost an estimated $150 million to $165 million, CEO Michael Faas said. Key to the financing package is the ongoing merger talks with Borgess Health Alliance of Kalamazoo that are in the “final stages,” Faas said.

Faas said the health system hopes to obtain assistance in developing the new suburban campus from Borgess’ parent company, St. Louis, Mo.-based Ascension Health.

“Everything’s really a series of parallels,” Faas said of the ongoing planning for the new suburban campus and the potential merger with Borgess.

Metro envisions developing a new hospital and adjoining health-care services at the site to replace its existing 238-bed facility in southeast Grand Rapids. The hospital decided to develop a new campus because it has outgrown its present location and is landlocked with little room available for expansion.

A suburban hospital campus would give Metropolitan Hospital a new base to serve the rapidly growing communities in southern Kent County and eastern Ottawa County.

West Michigan’s growth and economic vitality are among the factors driving Metro’s push to develop the new suburban campus, Faas said.

“Health care does follow demand,” Faas said. “It’s pretty much given that when the population goes up, the demand for health care is going to go with it.”

In Grand Haven, meanwhile, North Ottawa Community Health System is nearing completion of an $11 million ambulatory care center and plans to begin work soon after on a $4.9 major renovation of the first floor of its hospital.

In Muskegon, Mercy General Health Partners is planning an $8.9 million emergency department.

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