Zeeland Holland Hospitals Expanding

January 28, 2003
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ZEELAND — In proposing a new $36 million facility, Zeeland Community Hospital is responding to issues that are driving a steady buildup in health care today — population growth, increasing utilization rates, changes in medical technology and procedures, and a need to generate operating efficiencies.

Virtually every hospital in the West Michigan market in undertaking or planning a major building program to address space shortages and inefficiencies and meet changing demands for now and in the future.

Holland Community Hospital may soon join the crowd, as administrators there work to finalize a long-range facilities plan before the end of 2003 that will likely involve new construction and run into several million dollars.

“You’re going to see more hospitals in the future have to address the same things,” Zeeland Community Hospital President Henry Veenstra said last week in unveiling plans for the new 130,000-square-foot hospital proposed just northeast of Zeeland.

In Zeeland’s case, driving the proposal for a new hospital are an aging facility that lacks space for any further expansion and has a host of operating inefficiencies; rapid population growth in southern Ottawa County; rising utilization rates; and a desire to add new clinical services in the future.

Zeeland Community, after undergoing several renovations and expansions since its 1956 opening, is out of room to expand any further at its present eight-acre campus. That lack of space prevents the hospital from adding new clinical services, Veenstra said.

The proposed facility will enable Zeeland Community, one of the smallest hospitals in the West Michigan market with 57 licensed beds, to expand clinical services as the market dictates, Veenstra said. Among them is offering mobile MRI services.

“Certainly there are things we’d like to consider now that we just can’t consider because we just don’t have the room,” Veenstra said. “We are going to be given the opportunity in this project to address that.”

Two years worth of study and analysis concluded that the cost of building a new hospital “was no more expensive” than renovating or expanding the existing facility, a fix that would only take Zeeland Community 10 years into the future, Veenstra said.

“The hospital is the instrument we use to serve our patients. Our instrument is wearing down,” he said. “We need a hospital that will allow us to continue to provide the latest in medical technologies, and enhance the quality of care and drive efficiencies throughout our system.”

That’s largely the story for many hospitals, said Lody Zwarensteyn, president of the health care planning agency Alliance for Health in Grand Rapids.

Once surrounded by plenty of room to expand and grow when they first opened decades ago, many hospitals in the region are now landlocked. Or they are trying to cope with aging, inefficient facilities that do not lend themselves well to today’s medical technology, processes and rising patient volumes, Zwarensteyn said.

Zeeland Community, he said, fits both scenarios.

“They’ve reached that point where they really do need to reconfigure and set themselves up properly for medicine in the current era,” Zwarensteyn said.

Zeeland Community will file a formal application with the Michigan Department of Community Health this summer seeking a certificate of need to proceed for the project, Veenstra said. Occupancy in a new facility is tentatively targeted for mid-2006.

The Alliance for Health will review the application locally and issue a recommendation to the state on whether to approve the project.

Based on previous conversations with hospital executives and the plan that was unveiled last week, Zwarensteyn’s early reaction is favorable. New hospital facilities that generate operating efficiencies can help to control costs and improve quality and access — three issues that the Alliance for Health, an association consisting largely of businesses from the region, worries about the most.

“What they want parallels what we want,” said Zwarensteyn, citing Zeeland’s business model of staying within its role as a primary-care provider within a market where it enjoys a high level of patient loyalty.

“They are not overreaching in terms of what they want to do,” he said. “They’re staying within the things they do well.”

Zeeland Community will not seek a decrease or increase in its present license of 57 inpatient beds, Veenstra said. Financing for the project will come from the sale of $24 million in tax-exempt bonds, the sale of the existing 100,000-square-foot hospital on Pine Street, cash reserves, and a public capital campaign that will seek to raise an undetermined amount.

Serving a rapidly growing core market of southern Ottawa County, Zeeland Community Hospital has experienced a 42 percent increase in outpatient visits, a 54 percent increase in outpatient surgeries, and a 41 percent increase in births since 1996.

Among the major heath care projects across West Michigan planned or occurring are Metropolitan Hospital’s planned relocation to a new $141.6 million suburban facility, Spectrum Health’s $86 million heart hospital in downtown Grand Rapids, Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center’s $42 million Lacks cancer center, a new $9.9 million emergency room planned at Muskegon’s Hackley Hospital, Mercy General Health Partners’ $10 million ER that opens next month, and the $9.3 million first-floor renovation at North Ottawa Community Hospital in Grand Haven.

Holland Community Hospital, after completing a $24 million expansion of its ER, urgent care and outpatient units in 1998, has been working for more than a year on an updated long-range facilities plan that administrators hope to finalize by the end of the year, said Chief Executive Officer Dale Sowders.

The hospital, located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, will focus the next building program on upgrading inpatient facilities at its present campus.

Inpatient portions of the hospital date back to 1927 and are now used for administrative offices. Other portions were built in 1947 and 1957.

“Things have changed and changed and changed, obviously, since these have been established, so it’s a challenge for us in deciding how to use that space,” Sowders said. “It’ll be how to best position our inpatient facilities for the next 10 years.”

Sowders anticipates the next building program having a price tag larger than the $24 million effort of five years ago.

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