Across Town, Across Decades

October 5, 2007
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The day Carol DeVries turned 16, she was hired as a nurse’s aide at Grand Rapids Osteopathic Hospital on Lake Drive SE.

Fifty-four years later, DeVries can see the new Metro Health Hospital from her Byron Center condominium.

“It’s hard to describe how proud I am of where they are and what they’ve done,” said DeVries, who today, as a breast cancer survivor, is a nurse educator at Metro Health.

The hospital moved on Sept. 30 from its home of 50 years at 1919 Boston St. SE to the $150 million, 208-bed facility at 5900 Byron Center Ave. SW in Wyoming. DeVries was there, just as she was in 1957 when the hospital moved from its first quarters in a house on Lake Drive to what seemed then like a cavernous building on Boston.

The move this fall required several years of planning and a host of consultants and movers. But 50 years ago, hospital employees simply loaded up their cars with equipment and drove to the Boston location, DeVries recalled.

“I helped them move from that house to Boston,” she said. “We filled our cars with what we could and drove way out in the country on Boston. There was nothing around there. It was just 10 acres with big fields. We thought it was so big.”

The house on Lake Drive accommodated about 40 patients, DeVries said. The area’s osteopathic doctors took out second mortgages on their own homes to buy it. Interns with strong backs carried surgical patients to the second floor and women in labor to the third, she remembered.

Still, “the beds were always full. People just loved it. It was a homey atmosphere; you got all this personal attention. Everyone was dedicated to each other. It was like a big family,” said DeVries, who was hired while still in high school at the recommendation of her family doctor. She eventually earned L.P.N. and R.N. designations, working weekends, raising two children and going to school at Grand Rapids Junior College.

Over the years, DeVries said, she’s seen the organization through some growing pains. It became Metropolitan Hospital and today is Metro Health, with a dozen medical offices scattered around the Grand Rapids area in addition to the hospital. The new hospital sits in the middle of Metro Health Village, a 170-acre multi-use development, conceived and executed by Metro Health and development partner The Granger Group.

When DeVries first started working at an osteopathic hospital, she was warned that no allopathic hospital would ever be willing to hire her. While she’s stayed, the lines between the two approaches to medical care have blurred over the decades.

“Fifty percent of our doctors are M.D.’s, and many of our doctors are in all the other hospitals,” she said. “That was part of the difficult growing pains — being accepted and finally being at the top of our profession.”

DeVries, 70, hopes to continue her work of the past 17 years — educating women about mammograms and breast cancer — at the new Metro Health Hospital.

“It’s very impressive, beautiful,” she said. “It’s a long ways from Lake Drive.”    HQX

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