DeVos The community owns the hospitals

May 29, 2012
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Mary Free Bed’s continued alliance with regional health care institutions was announced in the same week one of the originators and architects of such partnerships was honored for a lifetime of work to that end. The Alliance for Health last week honored Amway co-founder Rich DeVos and his wife, Helen, with its most prestigious honor, the Hillman Award, for their work to provide high quality health care throughout the region.

The couple’s most recent contribution, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital on the Medical Mile, is testimony to their philanthropy that extends to several, varied health-related projects. But the mid-1990s merger of Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals to create a single entity, Spectrum Health, is unique. At the time such a plan was crafted, the separate entities were planning expansions — duplication of services and especially technology. In his acceptance speech last week for the award, DeVos recalled being questioned by business leaders at that time, suggesting that competition between the two hospitals strengthened such services. DeVos is still pragmatic and certain in his response: ‘These were not businesses; businesses did not own the hospitals. The community owned them … owns them today.” DeVos noted even now “there’s a lot of tension between hospitals,” and admonished the extensive medical community represented in the audience to “work harder at it; work at doing things together.”

Alliance for Health, a nonprofit West Michigan organization, is a broad-based community coalition encouraging optimal health for all through high quality health care services at the lowest cost. At the time of the hospital merger the Alliance created the Hillman Commission, named for U.S. District Judge Douglas W. Hillman, “to conduct a comprehensive review of hospital plans in Kent County and to make appropriate recommendations for the future.” The recommendations ultimately sparked the discussions between the two hospitals, leading to the merger. DeVos noted Saint Mary’s Health Care (now Mercy Health Partners) also had been considered in such a merger, but he said because it is operated by a religious organization such consideration would have been interruptive of its affiliation. DeVos and his family also donated “generously” to Saint Mary’s Hauenstein Center. Saint Mary’s was the major sponsor of the award luncheon. They also have donated to a specialized feeding program for disabled children at Mary Free
Bed, an institution with a more than 100-year history, specifically in rehabilitation innovation and treatment.

The Business Journal emphasizes the caution and admonishment of DeVos, as Spectrum Health continues in its merged and expansive form to build out duplicative services, especially targeting those already provided by Mary Free Bed. Such attempts to take market share are right for business, but as DeVos said: “These are not businesses. The community owns them.”

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