New Health Center Brings New Approach

June 13, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — North Ottawa Community Hospital, back on its feet following financial difficulties in the late 1990s, hopes to regain market share as it brings additional medical specialties to town with the opening of a new $11 million health facility.

The Harbor Dunes Health Center will house offices for a local group of family physicians and specialists, specialty practices that want to open a local practice, and diagnostic procedures that will relocate from the adjacent hospital.

In a broader sense, the center represents a new era for North Ottawa Community Hospital, which just three years ago was reeling in the wake of heavy financial losses that forced deep staff cuts. The 81-bed acute-care hospital was also at odds with the physician group, Horizon Medical, which is now a partner in Harbor Dunes.

With the financial condition stabilized and relations with Horizon Medical mended, the hospital is now looking to regain a "small but noticeable" erosion in its market share incurred during the lean times by providing office space to medical specialists locally and thus serve area residents who have had to travel to Muskegon, Holland or Grand Rapids for treatment, North Ottawa President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Funk said.

Having those services based locally will provide North Ottawa with a potential catalyst for growth through a new source for patient referrals, Funk said.

"This is going to be a new way to approach health care in the community, and I believe a better way," Funk said last week during an open house for Harbor Dunes. "This is probably the greatest symbol in the change in direction and the change in focus for the hospital and the medical community in general."

Horizon Medical, a consortium consisting of 21 primary care and specialty physicians (pediatrics, OB/GYN and internal medicine), and North Ottawa split the cost to develop Harbor Dunes.

The partnership is a far cry from past relations between North Ottawa and Horizon Medical, which at one point began building a facility to house its own diagnostic labs and medical specialists that it hoped to recruit to Grand Haven. Horizon abandoned the project three years ago after Funk became North Ottawa's CEO and forged a new working relationship with the hospital that led to the development of Harbor Dunes.

"The program was intended to bring closure to that era," said Raymond Breiding, administrator for Horizon Medical.

Horizon needed the new facilities because many of its physicians had outgrown their present offices, which had become "woefully inadequate," and wanted to have an ownership in their own facilities, rather than "spend money on leases for the rest of their lives," Breiding said.

"This is like going from a shack to the Mayo Clinic," he said as he led a tour of the Harbor Dunes facility.

Horizon Medical physicians also were wary of having to send their patients to specialists located elsewhere in West Michigan. With the new facility, Horizon has been recruiting specialists to Grand Haven as a way to improve service and convenience for their patients and provide the hospital additional revenue sources through referrals for diagnostic procedures, Breiding said.

"It wasn't right to be sending people out of town and it's also hurting the hospital," he said. "We will bring into the community whatever is necessary."

Among the specialists opening a local office this month at Harbor Dunes is Shoreline Ophthalmology, a Muskegon-based consortium of eight ophthalmologists and two optometrists.

The development of Harbor Dunes came as the group was looking to expand into the Grand Haven-Spring Lake area, said Chris Grek, who heads Shoreline Ophthalmology. Opening a new office in Harbor Dunes was "a natural fit for us," Grek said.

"They had a need and we kind of filled the need for them," he said. "It worked out well."

Additional specialists in cardiology, surgery, urology and gastroenterology are scheduled to move into Harbor Dunes by December. North Ottawa and Horizon Medical, working under the corporate structure Lakeshore Healthcare LLC, hope to recruit additional specialists — such as an ear, nose and throat specialist — and will eventually consider complementary services such as chiropractic care, Breiding said.

"You'll see some of that evolve over the next couple of years. Patients are asking for some of that," he said.

Physician practices moving into Harbor Dunes are required to work with the hospital to establish common customer and medical service goals, referral protocols and accept the same insurance plans that North Ottawa accepts, Breiding said.

With the Harbor Dunes Health Center nearing completion, and physicians beginning to move into their new medical offices, North Ottawa will turn its attention to a major $5 million renovation of the hospital's first floor. The renovation, coupled with the relocation of rehabilitation and some diagnostic services to Harbor Dunes, will provide the room needed to expand the hospital's Breast Evaluation Center, oncology clinic, outpatient surgery and emergency room, Funk said.

North Ottawa hopes to file an application with the Michigan Department of Community Health by Oct. 1 for the Certificate of Need that's required for the project to proceed, he said.

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