Med School Move Must Be WinWin

February 27, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Relocating Michigan State University’s medical school must win for both Grand Rapids and the Lansing area, university President Peter McPherson says.

In weighing options that range from increasing the medical school’s presence in Grand Rapids to complete relocation, he said MSU needs to balance its goals with the needs of Lansing, where heath-care providers rely heavily on the medical school for support.

McPherson believes a scenario that strikes that balance is achievable.

“We need to figure out how everybody wins,” he said after speaking last Thursday to the Rotary Club. “I do not want to be in a situation where I have to say Grand Rapids wins and East Lansing loses. I believe it is feasible to find a win-win for everybody.”

A decision on the future role in Grand Rapids for MSU’s College of Human Medicine is due in early May, McPherson said. Once MSU decides what to do with the medical school, the planning then begins on how to implement it, a process that could potentially take several years, he said.

MSU administrators and local health-care providers have talked for many years about expanding the College of Human Medicine’s role in Grand Rapids, where 54 medical students now receive their third- and fourth-year clinical training as residents at Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center.

Glenn Davis, the dean of the College of Human Medicine, told the Business Journal last October that he’d like to see MSU eventually offer its entire four-year medical program in Grand Rapids.

The discussions have steadily picked up momentum in recent months to the point where McPherson this winter accelerated an analysis on the move.

Luring MSU to examine a greater role in Grand Rapids is a community twice the size of Lansing and possessing a far deeper and growing clinical, research and education base than what the College of Human Medicine now has available, including the Van Andel Institute, which needs to partner with a major medical school.

Ongoing efforts in Grand Rapids to grow the health care, health sciences and research sector represent a strong attraction for MSU, McPherson said.

“There’s an opportunity in this community to make things even bigger and better,” he said. “Grand Rapids has put together important pieces of a powerhouse medical center here.”

But in weighing relocation of the medical school, or significantly expanding its role in Grand Rapids, McPherson will need to convince parties in East Lansing and Lansing that MSU is not planning to abandon medical education in mid-Michigan.

Political and business leaders in Lansing are worried that if MSU’s College of Human Medicine moves or expands into Grand Rapids, it would not grow in their community, creating problems for health-care providers in the Lansing area that rely on medical residents as well as support and resources from the medical school to serve a growing and aging patient population, particularly the uninsured and underinsured.

McPherson said he understands those feelings and is working to find a mutually beneficial solution.

“What I’ve been saying back in Lansing is we have to approach this in a fashion that can be a win-win for both communities,” he said.

Even those who want to see MSU’s College of Human Medicine come to Grand Rapids, providing greater fuel to the growing health sciences and research base already here, agree that Lansing cannot lose in the scenario.

“He just has to figure out how to do it gracefully,” said David Van Andel, chairman of the Van Andel Institute. “It has to be a benefit to the state. It can’t just be a benefit for a community and a detriment to another community.”

Van Andel believes that MSU also will find a strong base of financial support in Grand Rapids to help bring or expand the medical school here.

“There’s a constituency in the community that’s growing and understanding what it could mean to the community and that gathers more support as it goes on,” he said.    

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