Health Care Construction Booms

February 14, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The new $30 million outpatient complex that Saint Mary's Health Care plans in Byron Township is typical of what's driving health-care construction in America to new heights.

So are Holland Hospital's $45 million expansion and the new $36.1 million Zeeland Community Hospital, both of which are under construction.

The projects are part of a wave of health-care construction in West Michigan driven by a variety of forces.

In planning the Southwest Outpatient Campus for a 22.4-acre site near the M-6 freeway, Saint Mary's Health Care wants to further extend primary-care medical services into a growing area of Kent County that accounts for more than one-fifth of current patient volumes.

Zeeland Community Hospital is aging with no more room for growth and is not suited to today's medical technology or equipment.

And Holland Hospital's new intensive care unit and emergency department expansion are designed to accommodate burgeoning patient volumes.

For contractors specializing in health-care construction, business is booming.

"Right now we're in a big surge," said Bruce Burgess, vice president of Wolverine Construction Management in Grand Rapids, a division of Wolverine Building Group.

He described 2004 as "fantastic" for the company in the health-care sector and said 2005 "is looking very, very good."

Wolverine Construction Management is the construction manager for the Saint Mary's outpatient complex.

Wolverine is also working with Spectrum Health to plan a new cancer hospital and a new DeVos Children's Hospital. It also was the construction manager on the health system's $137 million Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.

Burgess estimates that percent of Wolverine Construction Management's revenue comes from health-care projects.

Nationwide, health-care construction grew 9.5 percent in 2004, to $32.7 billion, and remains one of the strongest categories in the construction sector, according the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The 2004 growth rate came after a 6.9 percent increase in 2003.

Burgess sees the strong growth rates continuing for the near future.

"It's not going to go on forever, but for the next five years, it's going to be pretty phenomenal," Burgess said. "Health care has changed and the old buildings just can't accommodate it."

Saint Mary's $45 million Lacks Cancer Center, which opened last month, and a Byron Township outpatient center join Spectrum Health's Meijer Heart Center as notable developments in West Michigan.

Saint Mary's is also planning for a $30 million neurosciences center in Grand Rapids, which — like the Lacks Cancer Center and Meijer Heart Center — represents another driver of the construction wave: specialized care centers.

The single biggest West Michigan project is the new $155 million Metropolitan Hospital, on which construction may resume once the hospital completes financing this spring.

Behind the surge in health-care construction is an aging and growing population that requires more health care and is driving up utilization rates.

Burgess said this change necessitates more capacity. And he said many older facilities can neither handle those rising patient volumes nor accommodate today's high-tech medical equipment.

That's why Zeeland Community Hospital decided to replace its 50-year-old building. Occupancy of the new 114,000-square-foot, 57-bed hospital — under construction along Chicago Drive just east of town — is targeted for mid-2006.

In Holland, patient volumes are expected to continue growing as the population in southern Ottawa County and northern Allegan County increases.

Anticipating that growth, the hospital designed a new single-story intensive-care unit to accommodate three additional floors in the future, said Mike Parker, Holland Hospital's director of facility development.

The hospital — which is using a joint venture between Elzinga Volkers and The Christman Co. as its general contractor — spent three years carefully planning the expansion, honing projections for patient volumes, and anticipating changes that may occur in how health care is delivered in the next decade and beyond.

Planning new medical centers is a deeply methodical process that offers little room for error and requires intense collaboration, Parker said.

"You've got to tune in your crystal ball pretty timely because it's a dynamic industry, and what is the right thing today may not be the right thing in five years or in 10 years," Parker said.

The growing reliance on outpatient care contributed to Saint Mary's Health Care's plans for the new Byron Township campus.

As more and more procedures are handled on an outpatient basis, Deb Stiemann said Saint Mary's wants to make it more convenient for patients in southern Kent County to access the health system.

Stiemann, Saint Mary's Health Care's vice president of strategic planning, said the institution also is seeking to take pressure off its main campus in Grand Rapids.

"The way health care is being delivered is changing. It does have some implications on older physical plants and hospitals do need to respond through re-engineering their processes so they work better in a different facility," Stiemann said.    

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