Good Business Plan Beset By Metro Shell Game

August 2, 2002
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Metropolitan Hospital has a potentially tremendous business plan for a new campus in southern Kent County. The plan, however, is becoming more convoluted with each phase of state approval. One wonders whether it is in the business of health care or has reshaped as a political entity as it is voluntarily putting itself in the midst of widening statewide political wars wrapped with health care woes. Mixing politics and health care is bad medicine, a point made considerably clear when then President Bill Clinton invited his wife to prepare solutions to the looming national crisis in the ’90s. It is no less abhorrent in Republican-led Michigan where model programs could provide enormous potential.

Perhaps Metropolitan Hospital’s posturing is the result of its defensive position two years ago, when it could not convince a balking neighborhood to look beyond their immediate boundaries to the greater mission of community health care in an expanded facility. But Metropolitan Hospital has had nothing but congratulations and encouragement for its moving plan since unveiling it in March of 2001. Evidence of that is apparent in the recent state Department of Community Health waiver of its restriction of hospitals moving more than two miles.

Metropolitan Hospital’s business plan early on garnered the support of the city, the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, area business groups, east Michigan business groups, the Alliance for Health and like groups across the state. Despite a few mis-steps in which Metro provoked entities assisting the move, each organization looked forward to Metro’s formal application to the state of its new plan.

The initial filing last week, however, is impugned for the shell games once again maligning Metropolitan Hospital’s intention. It is not unlike watching someone load Barney Fife’s gun, though as corporate criminals are marched from behind accounting books, it may begin to look more sinister to a community over-saturated by such news.

In stories reported throughout 2001 in Grand Rapids Business Journal, Metropolitan officials oblige those who noted that less than 50 percent occupancy of Metro’s 190 beds needed to be addressed in its moving plan, with a reduction in the bed count.

Metro’s filing last week indicates it will apply for 238 beds, and staff indicates it “never made any such promise” to business groups which have every reason to worry about cost containment.

The move and expansion plan made sense when regarding the facts that four hospitals are currently grouped within a four-mile radius; that population projections for south county show 3 percent to 12 percent growth over the next five years; and that the unused beds would therefore serve that population.

Metro staff indicated last week that the hospital does not intend to staff all 238 beds, at least not immediately. That may suggest that Metro is seeking to hoard those beds and, as population grows throughout the region, position itself to charge other area hospitals to “buy” their “inventory” should the need arise. This does not contain costs. Metro is providing west Michigan with a very real example of why the state Certificate of Need process was instituted and continues to be business’ best tool against enormously inflating health care benefit costs.

Grand Rapids Business Journal calls upon Metropolitan Hospital’s board to do the right thing: keep the promises made to those who helped get Metro to the alter of expansion. The state process will weed the issue, but Metro does not need to make it this difficult, creating greater conflict in an industry already under the political microscope. This plan does no favor to any Kent County residents.

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