Saint Mary's enters weight loss surgery market

October 5, 2009
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Bariatric surgery, once limited in Grand Rapids to Spectrum Health’s Blodgett Hospital, now is being offered at Saint Mary’s Health Care.

Dr. Paul Kemmeter of Grand Health Partners, a surgical and medical weight loss practice, said he has done more than 14 bariatric surgeries at Saint Mary’s since the spring and averages one to four per week there.

Kemmeter and three partners left MMPC in November 2008 and founded Grand Health Partners. The doctors continue to perform procedures at Blodgett Hospital, which saw 914 bariatric surgeries in fiscal 2009. Kemmeter operates two days per week at Blodgett and spends one day at Saint Mary’s, developing the program there with Cathy Mooney, a bariatric nursing specialist.

“I had conversations with the primary care physicians at Advantage Health. They really wanted the opportunity to be able to have their patients cared for within the Trinity Health system or Saint Mary’s,” Kemmeter said. “The patients wanted to be cared for at Saint Mary’s. Their physicians wanted them cared for at Saint Mary’s. And so this is a way to give the best customer service, is to provide really what they were asking for.”

In bariatric surgery, the stomach is altered to promote the loss of excess weight. Kemmeter said it has become an important tool in fighting health conditions related to obesity, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea.

According to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, about 220,000 people had the surgery in the U.S. last year. A presentation by Dr. John Brinkmeyer, a University of Michigan professor of surgery and co-director of the Michigan Bariatric Surgery Collaborative, stated that about 5,000 people have the surgery annually in the state. The ASMBS put the average cost at $17,000 to $26,000, which would put the Michigan bariatric market at about $130 million per year.

After leaving MMPC, Kemmeter began laying plans to develop the Saint Mary’s program. Saint Mary’s hired Mooney, who worked with bariatric patients for five years at Blodgett and has undergone special training in their care, as the coordinator. One of Mooney’s first tasks in preparing Saint Mary’s for the program was related to equipment, such as longer laproscopic tools, and larger wheelchairs and chairs for recovery and patient rooms. Weight limits for items such as surgical tables and toilets had to be checked. Bigger hospital gowns and slippers were ordered.

Several rooms on the fourth floor of the Lacks Cancer Center have been designated for bariatric patients and outfitted with the proper equipment, Mooney said. But, she said, perhaps the most important piece was a requirement in Saint Mary’s quest to earn the Center of Excellence title for the bariatric program: educating hospital staff about the patients.

“It’s kind of a controversial topic for a lot of people,” she said. “People do have strong opinions. It’s just a bias, like making fun or discriminating against fat people is still socially acceptable. People think bariatric surgery is too risky, these people are just fat, they are lazy, they have no self-control. … I assumed everybody was sensitive and kind to this population.”

“We don’t blame someone with lung cancer because they smoke,” pointed out Kemmeter.

Kemmeter said patient reaction so far has been positive, and Saint Mary’s has embraced the bariatrics program. “The folks at Saint Mary’s … they wrapped their arms around the whole project from the very get-go,” he added.

MMPC recently added Dr. Donald J. Scholten, a long-time bariatric specialist in Grand Rapids, to its staff, Marketing Manager Deidra McClelland said. MMPC is now a Spectrum Health subsidiary. HQ

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