Measure Would Aid Metro Move

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Language added to a budget bill in Lansing would aid Metropolitan Hospital’s efforts to relocate to suburban Grand Rapids, where it wants to develop a new hospital campus that could cost upwards of $160 million.

State Reps. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids, and Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, attached an amendment June 26 to a Michigan Department of Community Health $8 billion appropriations bill that would enable Metro to essentially bypass a state regulatory review process required to relocate a hospital more than two miles from its present site.

The amendment would require the department’s Certificate of Need Commission to take the “necessary steps” to grant an exemption to the existing regulation, provided that certain narrow criteria are met. Criteria written into the amendment would only allow exemptions in counties with a population between 500,000 and 1 million and where a hospital wants to move to a location within the same county. Another provision requires a hospital to have “demonstrated a thorough search” for a new site within a two-mile radius and gain the backing of the communities it’s leaving and moving into.

Metro, citing an inability to expand at its present land-locked location on Grand Rapids’ southeast side, wants to relocate 10 miles away and develop a new campus on a 150-acre parcel of land at Byron Center Avenue and Gezon Parkway, on the Wyoming-Byron Township line. That process comes as Metro continues merger negotiations with Borgess Health Alliance of Kalamazoo.

Kooiman and Jansen, who both serve on the House Appropriations Committee, added the amendment during a House-Senate conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of appropriations bills for the Department of Community Health’s 2002 fiscal year. The House and Senate are both expected to vote on the final appropriations bill this week.

The amendment was offered in response to Metro administrators’ concerns about the possibility of a drawn out regulatory-review process of their request to relocate the hospital, Kooiman said. The amendment “gets the attention of the Certificate of Need Commission,” he said.

“This needs to happen is a timely fashion,” Kooiman said. “Needless delays would not be helpful to that process.”

But the head of a regional heath-care planning agency that’s reviewing whether to support Metro’s request for a rule change so it can relocate says it’s Kooiman and Jansen’s amendment that’s not helpful because it would allow Metro to circumvent the regular review process.

The measure also politicizes a process that should remain strictly a public-policy discussion and could set a precedent for regulatory standards “to be gotten around through last-minute political maneuvering outside the planning process,” Alliance for Health President Lody Zwarensteyn said.

“I can understand why Metro did pursue this, but I very much regret them having done it because of the implications it has for the Certificate of Need program,” Zwarensteyn said.

The Alliance for Health’s board of directors is scheduled to meet today to decide whether to support Metro’s relocation request.

Metro Hospital never intended to show disrespect for the regulatory review process when it asked legislators for help in getting permission to relocate, Marketing Director Jim Childress said.

But indications in Lansing are that Metro’s request may run into opposition from unidentified “forces from outside of West Michigan” because it could open the door for other hospital relocations, Childress said. Metro simply wanted to protect itself with a “fall-back position” it could rely on, he said.

“This has statewide implications and we are aware of that,” Childress said. “This is just too important for us not to be going into it with our eyes wide open on what may happen on the statewide level.” 

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