Blodgett Has New Approach

July 22, 2007
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EAST GRAND RAPIDS — Physician representatives and project neighbors are enthusiastic about Blodgett Memorial Hospital’s proposed $98 million renovation and expansion of the facility.

“Not everything can or should be done downtown at Spectrum,” said Dr. John MacKeigan, interim chairman of the board and vice president of medical affairs at Michigan Medical PC, a 200-plus physician multi-specialty group in Grand Rapids. “Spectrum, when you look at the investment, is getting 284 beds for a third of the price (of new construction). The alternative was just to let it die, and I don’t think there’s enough health care resources in this community to pick up the slack.”

East Grand Rapids, a 10,373-resident suburb, which grew up around Blodgett Memorial Hospital, also is abuzz over last week’s announcement.

“Blodgett is such an important part of East Grand Rapids that overall there’s a sense of excitement because of the investment,” City Manager Brian Donovan said. “This is good news over the uncertainty we’ve had for the last eight-plus years.”

Over the next three years, Spectrum Health plans to build a five-story, 125,000-square-foot addition along the Wealthy Street side and renovate nearly the entire 284-bed hospital. It will be converted to private rooms. Operating rooms will be enlarged and added, with the capacity to expand from 14 to 18 in the future. Four-hundred full-time jobs are expected to be added over five years to the 1,400 current employees. Blodgett is East Grand Rapids’ largest employer, Donovan said.

“This is obviously a huge reinvestment in the community of East Grand Rapids,” Mayor Cindy Bartman said at last week’s press conference. “This is our hospital. This announcement virtually assures the future of this hospital and significantly contributes to a vibrant and healthy future for the community of East Grand Rapids.”

In the 1990s, the future of the hospital at 1840 Wealthy St. SE was anything but certain. Prior to the merger, Blodgett had purchased land near East Beltline Avenue NE with the intention of building a new hospital.

With the 1997 merger, that plan was scuttled and health care leaders talked about using Blodgett for outpatient services only, converting it into a nursing home, or eventually tearing it down. Some services once offered at Blodgett were consolidated at the Butterworth Campus in downtown Grand Rapids, such as cardiology, pediatrics and obstetrics. Blodgett reported an occupancy rate of 61 percent for the first 11 months of the 2007 fiscal year.

“When I first came into town seven years ago, there was a lot of discussion about what’s the viability of Blodgett Hospital, what’s the future going to be,” Spectrum Health President and CEO Rick Breon said. “We came to the conclusion that we really do need around 300 beds – 284, to be exact. …We’re going to be here for a very long time.”

“I think it’s fantastic news that Spectrum has committed to these renovations and additions to East Grand Rapids, and it certainly will help continue the growth in Gaslight Village,” said Mike Mraz, president of the newly reorganized, 30-member Gaslight Village Business Association and director of properties for Jade Pig Ventures, which has invested about $20 million in retail and office redevelopment in East Grand Rapids’ shopping district.

Mraz said he’s particularly excited about additional employees at Blodgett and the business they could bring to Gaslight Village shops and restaurants. 

“With the additional employees that it will bring —  and just the commitment and investment into the city will help bring additional people to the village,” Mraz predicted.

Neighbors were invited to a meeting last week about the plans.

“We’re happy they’re going to stay,” said Blodgett neighbor Roberta Osipoff, who lives on Plymouth Road. “There will be some building aches and pains going on but we’ve lived through worse. It’s very positive for the community and neighbors and the patients.”

Donovan said Spectrum Health will be required to seek special use designation from the East Grand Rapids City Commission for the entire hospital parcel, which is zoned as residential. He said previous additions have been allowed as a variance, but zoning laws have changed. “Really the whole hospital needs to be designated as that use. It’s now a non-conforming site,” he said.

The hospital also will need site plan approval from the Planning and City commissions, Donovan said, adding that the process includes opportunities for public hearings. Renovations require only building permits, he said.

Donovan added that he is confident that municipal services are adequate for the hospital’s future.

“We’re way below peak of what this hospital was,” he said. “It has the infrastructure — water, sewer are all there. Lake Drive, Plymouth, Wealthy, while they are two-lane roads, have a lot of different access points. With some way-finding signs, most people know where Blodgett is. Lastly, it’s on a major bus route. I think it’s fine. We will have them do traffic studies.”

Because Spectrum Health, with $2.7 billion in revenues, is nonprofit, East Grand Rapids will see little bounce in its tax base, Donovan noted. He said the city collects property tax on the medical office building and on part of the parking ramp.

Spectrum’s investment in Blodgett comes as another Southeast Side hospital, Metro Health Hospital, is closing in on a Sept. 30 date to move to its new 208-bed, private room facility in Wyoming. Breon said Metro Health’s disappearance from the neighborhood had little impact on Spectrum’s decision to reinvigorate Blodgett.

“It really didn’t have much of a play, to tell you the truth,” Breon said. “There will be some market shifting. There’ll be some trade-offs, but we don’t know how many, and it’s really hard to predict. I think there’s going to be some emergency room increase.”

“We’ll likely see an uptick potentially in some of our activity. That’s clearly part of the variables that have gone into this,” said Matt VanVranken, president of Spectrum Health Hospitals. “That impact is not the major driver here.”

Breon and newly named Blodgett President Jim Wilson said orthopedics, cardiology and neurosciences programs are in line to be expanded.

“We’re working now on expanding and making it more of a center of excellence here for neuroscience,” Wilson said.

Breon said that the health system will be seeking “a broad conversation with the physician community.”

BLODGETT FACTS

  • $98 million investment.

  • 284 beds in private rooms: 164 in existing hospital, 120 on three floors in new construction.

  • Addition: three inpatient floors; one floor with four operating rooms and room for four more; one floor for mechanicals.

  • 14 current operating rooms will be remodeled and enlarged to create 10 operating rooms.

  • 75,000 square feet of older, smaller inpatient rooms will be converted to offices.

  • Renovations to six inpatient nursing units.

  • Overhauls for infrastructure.

  • Parking ramp renovations and repairs.

  • Renovations to kitchen, cafeteria, entrance, lobby and public meeting spaces.

  • New services: cardiac catheterization lab, surgical center expansion, 64-slice CT scanner for cardiac imaging.

  • Proportion of surgical inpatients: 57 percent.

  • Fiscal 2007: 12,727 admissions; 6,928 inpatients surgeries; 4,264 outpatient surgeries; 32,399 emergency room visits.  

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