Saint Mary's, Spectrum, patients win in PET race

January 26, 2009
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When Randy Wagner still worked at Spectrum Health back in 2004, he helped to set up a joint venture with Saint Mary’s Health Care to bring to Grand Rapids new imaging technology for cancer patients.

Now, as COO at Saint Mary’s, Wagner oversaw the dismantling of that partnership. As of today, each hospital has its own positron emission tomography scanner.

The exercise has been cited as an example of smart health care planning.

“It shows that the needs of the community can come first,” said Lody Zwarensteyn, president of Alliance for Health, a Grand Rapids nonprofit involved in health care planning in 13 West Michigan counties. “It shows the institutions, when brought together and asked to cooperate by the community, have the ability to do so.”

PET scanners combine nuclear medicine with images produced by computed tomography. The patient is injected with a short-lived radioactive isotope, and emissions from it then are attracted to certain areas, such as tumors. Combined with images from a CT scan conducted at the same time, the PET scan helps doctors pinpoint tumors, their size and stage of progression.

The technology also is used in neurology and cardiology. Wagner said he expects increased usage, now that Saint Mary’s has its own PET scanner at the same time the hospital is opening the Hauenstein Center, which will centralize neurological services. Saint Mary’s built a $2.6 million addition last year to accommodate its new unit.

At that time, none of Grand Rapids’ hospitals met the Michigan Department of Community Health volume standard, Zwarensteyn said. But the only PET scanners in the state were in southeastern Michigan, Wagner said, and providers felt strongly that West Michigan patients shouldn’t have to travel for the service.

So Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s teamed up to create a joint venture to buy one machine, and between them they met the state’s volume requirements.

It was located at the Evergreen Imaging Center and handled about 10 patients per day, Wagner said.

“I was the individual who developed the joint venture agreement when I was working at Spectrum,” Wagner said. As part of that agreement, the steps to be taken to dismantle the joint venture were spelled out, he added.

From Spectrum’s viewpoint, the volume of patients using the outpatient procedure simply had grown to a point where the health system needed its own machine, spokesman Bruce Rossman said. It is being located at the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

The MDCH’s Certificate of Need Commission has set a required volume of 5,500 “PET equivalent” units before it gives approval for a new fixed machine.

The machine used at Evergreen is being replaced by two new units. Staff members were given a choice of interviewing for jobs at either hospital, Wagner added.

“At the time we started the joint venture, it was a good thing. It allowed Grand Rapids to get a PET scanner by both organizations combining their volumes,” Rossman said.

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