New heart institute in the works

June 21, 2009
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Discussions about establishing a cardiology institute have intensified this year between West Michigan Heart and Spectrum Health, sources said last week.

Most of the cardiologists who now comprise the private group of 34 physicians would become members of the cardiology institute, which would tie together clinical practice, research and teaching activities at the Meijer Heart Center, Van Andel Institute and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, WHM CEO Suzette Jeskie said.

Jeskie said the idea for the institute has been floating around since the heart tower was built. With 330,000 square feet, eight floors and 164 patient beds, it opened next to Butterworth Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids in 2004.

“That’s a huge part of our relationship. That’s where our relationship would be centered,” Jeskie said. “I hope its time has come.”

The discussions are occurring as a half-dozen West Michigan Heart physicians, most of them osteopathic doctors, are laying plans to leave the group in order to retain their connection to Metro Health Hospital.

“There are six of our doctors who are leaving West Michigan Heart and going to Metro. That is true,” WMH CEO Suzette Jeskie said. “It’s not our choice. We’re not happy about it. They’re good doctors. We’re going to miss them.”

The Wyoming hospital, which lost $11.77 million in fiscal 2008 and recently saw its bond rating downgraded, is hoping to convince the state that it should have a program for open-heart surgery.

Through a spokesperson, the Metro Health-based doctors declined to comment.

Currently, heart procedures at Metro Health Hospital and Saint Mary’s Health Care are limited to clot-busting angioplasties, while other heart procedures and open-heart surgery, short of transplants, are performed at the Meijer Heart Center. The heart center handles between 900 and 1,000 cases annually.

Spectrum Health is interested in making its own case to the state to add heart transplants to its services. Dr. James Tucci, president of the Spectrum Health Medical Group, confirmed that the health system and the heart doctors are discussing the establishment of the heart institute.

Jeskie said the completion of construction at the Meijer Heart Center five years ago, the growth of research at the Van Andel Institute and the arrival of the MSU medical school have provided a moment of convergence, creating the right time to hammer out plans for a local cardiology institute.

“The first part had to become reality before the next stage was ready. I don’t think it could have happened earlier,” Jeskie said.

“It’s a lot of discussion around how to do it. We’ve got to look at the different possibilities, the employment models, the business models that will make this work. Gains in the standard of care to the community, the ability to recruit in the future when we know we are going to have a shortage of cardiologists — whatever helps us achieve those goals, that’s the business model,” she said.

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