Analysis Sought On Med School Move

July 7, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A proposal to relocate much of Michigan State University’s medical school to Grand Rapids will undergo the scrutiny of an independent analysis that backers say is intended to verify cost estimates and give them a better understanding of what’s ahead.

In what is essentially a due-diligence process, community and business leaders in Grand Rapids want to have a third-party analysis conducted on the estimated $309 million costs associated with the move as well as the potential economic impact locally.

The group wants to at least verify MSU’s cost estimates before committing to what’s sure to become a massive logistical and financial undertaking that would include a capital campaign to raise the millions needed to pay for the move and sustain a College of Human Medicine campus in Grand Rapids.

“We’ve got our due diligence work to do here. We want to look at Michigan State’s numbers and just understand where that $309 million figure comes from or come to a different conclusion and a number we can feel more comfortable with,” Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said. “We think we’ve got a great opportunity here but we’re not ready to jump until we fully understand what it’s all about and what our roles would be.”

Parties within the private and public sectors are “ready to embrace this” and offer significant financial contributions to the development of a medical school campus in Grand Rapids, Heartwell said, but “we’ve got to know what we’re hugging before we embrace it.”

By getting a clearer picture, advocates of the move will have a greater ability to answer the hard questions they will undoubtedly receive from potential major benefactors who will want to know how MSU would use their money and the potential return on investment for Grand Rapids.

An independent analysis that takes “a good hard look” at MSU’s financial estimates would give “legitimacy” to requests for financial backing for the medical school, Heartwell said.

“This community is nothing if not cautious and thoughtful and careful in how it does business,” said Heartwell, who coordinated the formation of a loose-knit coalition of local power brokers after MSU trustees decided to develop a medical school campus and significantly expand medical education in Grand Rapids.

MSU trustees in early May unanimously endorsed a conceptual proposal to move much of the College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids and start classes as early as the fall of 2005.

Heartwell days later began assembling a team of key players involved in health care, medical education and business in Grand Rapids to mount a coordinated, collaborative response to MSU’s plans.

The coalition that came together includes representatives from Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center and Metropolitan Hospital; the Van Andel Institute; the Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center for Health Professions; Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Aquinas College; the Alliance for Health; Grand Action Committee; and the city of Grand Rapids.

David Frey, co-chairman of Grand Action, is leading the drive to pay for the study. The accounting firm Deloitte & Touche was hired last week to conduct it, Frey said.

The coalition behind the study will seek to have the results back in time to meet MSU President Peter McPherson’s and Spectrum Health’s timeline to have a plan finalized by the end of the year.

“We’re hoping to do this with a reasonably compatible timeline so it’s compatible with that of the university,” Frey said.           

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