All Around You

December 20, 2007
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Much focus has been placed on the new Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming. But Metro Health also has a set of 10 clinics in suburban areas that provide primary and some specialty care, and that system is poised to grow.

“The history goes back 13, 14 years,” said Dr. Frank Belsito, a family practice physician who is vice president and  COO of Metro Enterprises, the for-profit Metro Health subsidiary comprising the clinics. “Back in the early mid-’90s, when hospitals around the country were purchasing practices, our grads were coming out of residency and not wanting to start their own practice.”

They were looking for more stability and less hassle than running their own businesses, he said.

“Gradually in the mid-’90s, Metro did start to employ or purchase practices, but occurring at the same time, we wanted to get some efficiencies of care for one- and two- and three-doctor practices.”

That led to the establishment of Metro Health’s neighborhood outpatient centers. According to the Metro Health Web site, the centers employ 38 physicians and provide space for 17 more who are “private independent practitioners.” Belsito said of those employed by Metro Enterprises, eight are allopathic physicians, 34 are osteopathic doctors and 20 are “mid-level” providers, nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants. The centers employ a total of 150 people.

“What we tried to create is still that relationship between the family doctor and patient at a practice site that was similar to that small office in the community, even though in bigger buildings,” Belsito said. “We also keep separate practices in the buildings, but behind the scenes, it’s all one practice from an operational standpoint.”

The system allows supplies to be purchased at a cheaper rate and gives doctors the confidence that their patients will be taken care of in their absence, he added.

The neighborhood centers focus on family practice, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology and sports medicine. Many include mammography, ultrasound, physical therapy and laboratory services.

“We have just started to employ specialists,” Belsito said. “Some specialists have come to us and want that. Our goal, our preference, is to stay in primary care for a variety of reasons.”

Joining the Metro Health roster temporarily can help new specialists get established until they can join private practices, he added.

The Southwest location on 44th Street is the largest, comprising 17 doctors and specialty services such as the Cosmetic Treatment Center, neonatology and neurosurgery.

The Breton Center at 1925 Breton Road SE is unique among the centers, because its primary clinic is the workplace for residents in family practice, internal medicine, osteopathic manipulative therapy and obstetrics and gynecology, as well as programs in surgery, ophthalmology and urology.

After Metro Health moved its hospital to Wyoming in September, the Breton location opened a seven-day-a-week walk-in clinic for minor health issues. Metro Health spokesman Jim Childress said that about three-quarters of the clinic’s patients have little or no health insurance. Metro Health even works with resettlement groups to treat new immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa and Vietnam at Breton. Twenty percent of the patient population there either does not speak English or speaks English as a second language. Many of those speak Spanish, but the rest speak 27 different languages. The clinic also offers help in enrolling in Medicaid and information about Kent County Health Department programs.

“One of the things that differentiates ourselves from Advantage Health (a primary care practice owned by Saint Mary’s Health Care) or MMPC (Michigan Medical PC, a multi-specialty private practice of more than 200 doctors) is availability and accessibility,” Belsito said. “If you call today, we’ll see you today. We feel it’s a better alternative than emergency rooms or med centers.”

For 12 months, a major initiative has been the implementation of electronic health records at all 10 centers, which eventually will be tied into the computer systems at Metro Health Hospital. The computer files keep track of test results, doctor’s visits and other details included in medical records. The system has been introduced at the Cascade center and will be rolled out in the rest in the coming months, Belsito said. The system uses software applications from Epic Systems Corp. in Wisconsin. 

“Wherever you are at Metro Health, you’re registered in the system. The ER doctors will have access to your health chart that’s in your family doctor’s office.”

The system also will let patients set their own appointments online and give them online access to personal health information, such as test results, he said.

“We think it’s going to change the way care is delivered. I think it’s going to be better,” Belsito said.

Several years ago, Metro Health sold the clinic buildings, deciding to marshal the capital assets for other reasons, such as the hospital’s move in September from its long-time home in Grand Rapids to the new, 208-bed, $150 million building in Wyoming. The only clinic building Metro Health still owns is the Breton site, which also houses urology programs and offices. Metro Health leases the other locations.

Currently under construction is an 11,500-square-foot Metro Health Neighborhood Center, on 32nd Avenue near Quincy Street in Jamestown Township, stretching the hospital’s reach into Ottawa County. Belsito said Metro Health’s 11th neighborhood center is expected to be complete in March. HQX

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