Alliance likely to pass local CONs on to state

April 15, 2011
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The Alliance for Health Evaluation Board will decide this week whether to approve certificate-of-need requests from Spectrum Health and Saint Mary’s Health Care. Spectrum Health wants to add five beds to its neonatal intensive care unit, which currently has 67 beds, while Saint Mary’s wants to replace its cardiac catheterization laboratory and add another radiology procedure room.

The Alliance held public hearings on both requests recently and recommended that the evaluation board approve both. If the board does that at its Thursday meeting, the CON requests will go to the Michigan Department of Community Health for final ratification.

“A government authority has to be the one that issues the final certificate. A nonprofit, like us, can’t do that. So we are advisors to the authority that issues the final certificate,” said Alliance President and CEO Lody Zwarensteyn.

Zwarensteyn also said he couldn’t see any barriers that would prevent the state from granting the certificates. But he added there may be some questions hospital representatives might have to answer. Just two are: Why are the requests being made now, and do the providers really have a need for what they’re requesting.

For instance, Spectrum Health executives may have to explain why they’re asking to raise the number of beds in the neonatal ICU from 67 to 72. Hospital officials told the Alliance the need exists because the system receives a high number of referrals from other hospitals. They said 69 infants were transferred to the Spectrum NICU in 2008 and 2009, which resulted in 1,924 patient days of care.

“In the case of Spectrum, their occupancy is not such that they need the beds,” said Zwarensteyn.

“Spectrum’s overall occupancy last year was like 65 percent for the entire hospital. They added 50 more beds since then by transferring those from other elements of their system. So, here they’re packing beds in at a time when the occupancy wouldn’t indicate it’s needed,” he added.

No capital costs and additional staff are attached to Spectrum’s CON request. Also, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, part of the Spectrum system, operates 38 unlicensed special-care basinets that are designated as neonatal intermediate beds. Five of those beds will be converted into NICU beds.

Saint Mary’s wants to replace its current cardiac catheterization lab with a new one, which will be located in the same first-floor space, and add a third interventional radiology procedure room. In all, roughly 13,000 square feet will be renovated. The project is expected to cost $8 million.

“In the case of Saint Mary’s, one of the things they’re doing is building in future capability to do things in catheterization work should the standards change,” said Zwarensteyn. “But, on the other hand, they’re going to say it’s cheaper to do it now than later.”

Once the project is completed, Saint Mary’s will hire a radiologist, eight registered nurses, about three imaging technicians and a radiology technician. The hospital plans to recruit new staff from the surrounding area.

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