Blodgett Addition Plan Gains Key Approvals

April 27, 2008
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EAST GRAND RAPIDS — Armed with recommendations for approval, Blodgett Hospital plans to forge ahead with construction of a 125,000-square-foot addition, expected to begin in June.

The approvals came from the Planning Commission to the City Commission and from health planning agency Alliance for Health to the state Certificate of Need Commission.

A public hearing on the Blodgett Hospital expansion is set for the 6 p.m. May 5 City Commission meeting at the Community Center, 750 Lakeside Drive SE, providing the last chance for comment before the city’s final decision.

East Grand Rapids City Manager Brian Donovan said there is “a strong possibility” that the City Commission will vote at that meeting on Planning Commission recommendations regarding the site plan, special use application and zoning variance.

The $61.29 million, five-story addition is part of Spectrum Health’s $98 million investment into Blodgett, which had faced an uncertain future when it merged with Butterworth Hospital in 1997. Extensive remodeling is planned that will convert Blodgett with 248 private rooms, move inpatients out of the oldest parts of the building and provide a new environment for outpatient services. The new section will hold 120 rooms, and the 1976 addition, 164.

“Blodgett is going to remain in East Grand Rapids for many, many years to come, and that’s really what this project, this initiative, is all about, is to give us a solid foundation to remain on the campus that we’re on right now, and the clinical services that we have there right now,” Blodgett President Jim Wilson said.

Spectrum Health’s decision to invest in Blodgett is a reversal of the consolidation strategy presented to the community at the time of the merger in 1997, Alliance for Health President Lody Zwarensteyn said.

“It does reverse a lot of the direction of the legal arguments and community representations about Blodgett,” Zwarensteyn said at the alliance’s Evaluation Board meeting. In fighting the Federal Trade Commission’s attempt to block the merger, hospital lawyers contended in court that creating one entity and consolidating operations in downtown Grand Rapids would save money, he said.

“This is a different path now … and a chance to affirm that as a community,” Zwarensteyn said.

Grand Valley Health Plan President Ron Palmer, an Evaluation Board member, questioned whether Blodgett is and will truly be a community hospital when traditional services such as obstetrics and pediatrics are located in downtown Grand Rapids. Blodgett hosts its own program, such as total joint replacement, bariatric surgery and the area’s only burn unit. Wilson said Blodgett’s emergency room expects 38,000 visits this year.

“In terms of what takes place at Blodgett, we are not going to establish a specialty hospital,” Wilson responded. “We have the clinical programs that are based there, but we’ve also got what I would consider pretty typical medical-surgical units. It really is a community, teaching environment at Blodgett. That’s the plan going forward.”

Zwarensteyn also pressed Spectrum Health officials about average occupancy rates for the 994 non-neonatal beds over the past two years at Blodgett and Butterworth combined. He noted that Blodgett’s proposal included occupancy rates as high as 78 percent by the time construction and renovations are completed in 2010.

“We’ve called on Spectrum before to publicly say how that’s going to come about, to share at least what goes into that projection of such increased use,” he said.

“We’re talking about our patients who are coming in from outside the region,” said Bob Meeker, Spectrum’s strategic program manager. “Specific to the Blodgett project, the bariatric program is certainly having a large draw from outside the Grand Rapids area.”

Meeker added said that major construction projects prevent the hospitals from using all licensed beds. Also, he noted, the patient census can dip low on weekends, but push capacity during the week.

The addition is expected to require 81 new jobs, including 21 technicians and technologists and 35 nurses.

By the end of the first year that the addition is open, Spectrum Health estimated it would produce $14.8 million in revenue and generate $16 million in expenses, depressing the hospital operating margin by 0.2 percent.

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