Metro Council Backs Metro Hospital

May 30, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Valley Metro Council unanimously agreed to support a proposed move by Metropolitan Hospital from its Boston Avenue campus on the city’s southeast side to a 150-acre site on Byron Center Road in Wyoming.

“There is no question that we need an excellent health-care facility on the south end,” said Larry Silvernail, Byron Township supervisor.

That endorsement from the region’s official planning agency could go a long way to help Metropolitan get the waiver it needs to move to a suburban location southwest of Grand Rapids. The hospital has to convince the state to waive its two-mile rule, a law that limits a hospital from relocating more than two miles from its current site.

In addition to the Metro Council’s backing, the hospital also has received support for its move from Mayor John Logie and Donald Maine, the former chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Directors and retired chancellor of Davenport University. Both have provided Metropolitan with letters of support, as will the Metro Council.

“You will have that letter,” said Jim Buck, GVMC chairman and mayor of Grandville.

Getting that waiver, though, will probably be a more difficult task, as a precedent for Metropolitan’s request doesn’t exist. The state has only ratified such moves when a hospital has been able to prove that the area it serves doesn’t have enough beds for its population, and that is not the case here.

In fact, the Alliance for Health, the local health-care watchdog group that has a lot of influence with the state, has told Metropolitan officials that they must cut 38 beds from their total of 238, among other considerations, in order to get the Alliance’s support.

“The two-mile for an over-bedded area? No,” said Michael Faas, Metropolitan president and CEO. “But we think we have a unique case. And we’ve been able to convince many people at the state and, frankly, inside the Alliance for Health and Economic Alliance to help us. They are very interested in local support and understanding.”

Metropolitan executives have an important meeting next month with the Certificate of Need Commission. On July 18, hospital officials will request that an ad hoc committee be created to consider giving Metropolitan an exemption to the two-mile rule.

Metropolitan will argue that its proposed site, located near a planned exit of the South Beltline about 10 miles from its current campus, will provide better access for most of its patients, as 45 percent live in the suburbs and rural areas of the region.

“What we’ve done with our plazas is that we’ve taken our care out to where the people live,” said Faas.

The hospital will also argue that the move will save money. Faas said Metropolitan would be able to cut $42 in costs per patient day, while the savings for the community would be $5.3 million annually if the hospital moves.

Faas also said that area corporations that do business with Metropolitan would be able to reduce their health-care costs if the hospital relocates. He estimated that the yearly savings for Meijer would run about $25,000, while Amway, Steelcase and the UAW-General Motors would respectively save about $26,000, $41,000 and $100,000 each year.

Plus, Faas will argue that the proposed site is where the population is going. A five-year projection shows that a new hospital in Wyoming would be situated near pockets that are expected to grow anywhere from 3 percent to 12 percent over that period. Right now, he said, the four area hospitals are all located within a four-mile radius of each other.

Faas also remarked that developers have approached him about buying or leasing the hospital’s current campus at 1919 Boston SE.

“I think that you’ll find that the planned uses for that facility are super. We can’t divulge who is interested. But it could be more medical for those patients that need it,” said Doyle Hayes, Metropolitan board chairman and GVMC at-large member.

“We do need your support because we do have a long road ahead of us. But I do think a new hospital would benefit the whole region,” Hayes added.

The proposed hospital would cost about $155 million to build. Faas said Metropolitan would invest between $60 million and $70 million into the project, and he added that a group of banks were willing to lend the hospital $102 million.

In addition, Faas said Ascension Health, which owns Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, is a likely source to help Metropolitan with an $87 million bond package. Metropolitan has been holding merger talks with Borgess for the past four years. Both Faas and Hayes have seats on the Borgess Board of Directors.

“If we don’t get the two-mile waiver, we can’t submit for a Certificate of Need which would actually allow us to go forward with our project,” said Faas. “If we stay where we are, we will not stay competitive and our costs will actually go up.”

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