Health decisions cant be driven by takeover mentality

July 26, 2010
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The passage of national health care reform legislation has spurred even closer scrutiny of how services are performed and distributed in communities nationwide. It has accelerated discussions regarding collaboration and partnerships. Such moves to action, however, also should put a sharper focus on the consequences of the big becoming bigger syndrome that appears to be taking hold, at least at the local level.

Zeeland Community Hospital recently announced plans to join Spectrum Health’s growing health care umbrella. Earlier this year, Gerber Memorial Hospital in Fremont joined Spectrum. Discussions are still open between Spectrum and Northern Michigan Regional Hospital in Petoskey as well as Munson Healthcare in Traverse City, where the plan has met public resistance. Spectrum also provides management for Mecosta County Medical Center in Big Rapids.

Spectrum also has acquired two large Grand Rapids physician practices recently — West Michigan Heart and Michigan Medical PC — and is recruiting doctors to add to its Spectrum Health Medical Group.

Now, Spectrum has its sights set on Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, which has been in discussions with Spectrum Health regarding a possible merger or other affiliation, according to hospital officials. Spectrum Health and Mary Free Bed have a long-term relationship and have worked closely to coordinate rehabilitation care for patients. It is a relationship that does merit evaluation in the new world environment of how health services are provided and funded. It is, however, a review that does not require a ramrod approach.

The 80-bed Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital has played a vital role in West Michigan for generations. It is owned by the all-female Mary Free Bed Guild, whose members are carrying on the tradition of the women who founded the hospital 120 years ago.

It began in 1891, when a small group of women from Grand Rapids asked people named Mary and those who knew someone named Mary to donate toward dedicating a hospital bed to poor patients. The guild was incorporated in 1911. A facility for children was established in the 1930s, when the hospital was designated by the state to provide pediatric orthopedic services. It also treated many 20th century polio victims. Rehabilitation services for adults were added in the 1960s.

Today, the guild and junior guild have 120 members and Mary Free Bed is a nationally recognized rehabilitation hospital. It provides inpatient and outpatient post-acute services for people who have suffered brain or spinal cord injuries, amputations, strokes, concussions, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other illnesses and injuries.

An unsigned memorandum being circulated in the health care community via email clearly indicates that Mary Free Bed Guild representatives are hesitant to turn the specialized hospital over to Spectrum Health, which also has a respected history of providing its own post-acute care. Although the memo was reportedly not issued by the Mary Free Bed hospital, it correctly cites responsiveness to community needs and maintaining provider choice among reasons to remain independent.

The memo also claims discussions between Mary Free Bed and Spectrum Health have included references by top Spectrum Officials that the health system was generally not in favor of joint ventures. Thus, it’s not too far-fetched to assume an arrangement between the two parties might be more in the nature of an outright absorption of Mary Free Bed by Spectrum.

This is where the good of the community interests must again come to the forefront. Mary Free Bed’s history of patient-centered care and solid operations merit more respect. A recognition of value must come from others in the health community that have their eye on expansions, fiefdoms and the bottom line — not collaborative benefit to the populace that has come to accept Mary Free Bed’s services as vital to the area’s health infrastructure. A “take my ball and bat and go home” attitude is the last approach needed as the future of medical service is weighed for the area.

Once again, a business sector burdened by the impact of health project cost overruns and skyrocketing benefit costs must not stand for such blind efforts at superiority. It just costs too much.  It also creates too big of a sacrifice for patients left without choice for their post-acute care.

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