MacKeigan Steers MMPC

April 14, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — When John MacKeigan looks back at his decision to build a medical practice and a life in Grand Rapids, he thinks he was trying to find a place of his own.

After graduating from the medical school at Dalhousie University in his native Nova Scotia, MacKeigan, the eldest son of a prominent Halifax lawyer and judge and a well-known volunteer, completed his residency at the Ferguson Clinic in Grand Rapids.

“I went back to Halifax and practiced for a year, and I was very busy in a short period of time,” MacKeigan recalled. But it wasn’t long before Michigan’s Furniture City lured him to return.

“I was living in the shadow of my parents, and I suspect striking out on my own was a part of it; I didn’t know it at the time,” he said, also pointing to Ferguson’s status as a well-regarded, innovative treatment center for colorectal disorders.


Name: John MacKeigan

Company: Michigan Medical PC

Title: Chairman

Age: 63

Birthplace: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Residence: Grand Rapids Township

Family: Wife, Suzie; children, Sara, Dan and Jeff; seven grandchildren

Business/Community Organizations: Vice chairman, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; past president, Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons; past president, Michigan State Medical Society.

Biggest Career Break: Following uncle’s footsteps into medicine, and finding two good mentors.

Now, after decades as a colorectal surgeon and leader in the state and national medical communities, MacKeigan has been elected as chairman of Michigan Medical PC, Grand Rapids’ largest physicians’ practice.

With more than 200 doctors in both primary care and specialist roles and 1,400 employees, MMPC reaches from Greenville to Grand Rapids to Holland and cares for thousands of patients each year. MacKeigan was appointed MMPC’s vice president of medical affairs in 2005, and assumed the chairmanship on an interim basis last year when long-time leader Dr. James Buzzitta stepped down. MMPC shareholders — who are its physicians — voted in February to give MacKeigan the job.

MacKeigan said he leaves the day-to-day details of running the business to CEO Ted Inman, and instead sees himself as the physician-shareholders’ representative.

“Over the last year, I’ve been the interim chair, so the election is just affirmation of the position that I've been holding,” he said. “It’s a three-year appointment. It has responsibilities to be administering and governing the board — but not managing — and being a voice for shareholders at the administrative level, in the community, at the universities, at the hospitals, and, frankly, to work on more leadership skills sets within health care and within our organization.”

The organization seems to be ever-growing, appending both established physicians and doctors so new the ink on their diplomas is still wet. MacKeigan said he thinks the financial realities of health care will continue to drive consolidation, despite resistance from independent-minded West Michigan.

“Law firms and accounting firms have done this before. Why is this odd for physicians to be doing this? It’s not odd at all; it’s more efficient,” he said. “In many communities this size, there are two or three MMPCs, but our individuality in West Michigan, not just in medicine but in business generally, keeps people from congregating in larger groups.”

From clinical support staff such as pharmacists and nurse educators to legal issues to a $40 million investment in software to run back-office functions and electronic medical records, the larger practice is able to support a wide array of needs that small offices cannot, MacKeigan argued.

With available health care dollars unlikely to grow, doctors, hospitals and insurers are being forced to work closer than ever, he said. That trend spawned a plan in 2006 to incorporate MMPC into Spectrum Health Clinic, which would have been a subsidiary under Spectrum Health that also would have encompassed several hundred doctors already employed by the hospital system. But that plan drew objections from a variety of corners and was quickly scuttled.

“I think the community wasn't ready before. I don't think we actually, frankly, had a chance to debate whether it was a good idea before it got taken off the table,” MacKeigan said. “I think if we'd had more chance to debate it, it would have been understood, increasingly, the advantages or disadvantages of that model for everybody, not just MMPC but other physicians and other hospitals.

“I think a lot of other physicians that weren't working at MMPC saw it as a power struggle, a power control issue for MMPC, when, in fact, that was not the premise. We were giving up our name, we were giving up our governance, we were giving up our structure — all of those things — and inviting people in. But we never had that chance to have that community debate.”

Today those talks have been revived as the Spectrum Health Medical Group, but MacKeigan is torn between that independent streak that characterizes the local medical community and the tantalizing efficiencies that could be available if the two organizations, which already converge in many contracts and cooperative arrangements, could merge.

“Basically, the premise and need for it is exactly the same. It’s just a matter of whether the community and the physicians of the community and the hospital are willing to accept a model where we will be more integrated at this point in time,” MacKeigan said.

“Integrating for quality, efficiencies and less cost is sort of where we are in health care right now. There’s no new dollars, so we have to be not competing with each other as much as finding the best solutions for providing the care. So, yes, we will be in those discussions…

“I think it’s us finding the right position and status to help the hospital with services and still feel we've got some degree of independence in our own governance, reimbursement systems, decision-making over quality and what services we can and should be providing. And that's going to take a longer debate as to what that model looks like.

“I think this time it might be a slower process as you try and engage other people in the process to get their buy-in. These things sometimes have to be transitional rather than transformative.”

MacKeigan grew up in Nova Scotia with a younger brother, now a lawyer, and a younger sister, who became a nurse. His father, Ian MacKeigan, worked for the Canadian federal government in Ottawa, then became a lawyer in Nova Scotia, where he served as chief justice of the Supreme Court from 1973 to 1985.

“My mother was a stay-at-home mom. She was always doing something on a volunteer basis. She had a tremendous amount of energy. I inherited a little bit of genes from both of them, I think,” MacKeigan said.

MacKeigan said he picked Ferguson not only for the practice opportunities, but for the professional launching pad it would provide.

“It was also an entreé, by being associated with Ferguson,” he said. “Ferguson was known within the specialty. I therefore had a chance to be known, to write papers and give talks nationally and internationally that I wouldn’t have had coming out of Nova Scotia.

“Those things helped affirm my own professionalism. I think partly because I grew up in a professional family, I valued professionalism — service not just to students but to your community and your profession, as well.”

Among his many posts, MacKeigan is a past president of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons; past president of the Michigan State Medical Society, where he advocated universal coverage; and a delegate to the American Medical Association. He led the board of Hospice of Grand Rapids when it was founded. Vice chairman of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan board of directors, MacKeigan said he’ll be stepping down this year to make room for someone with a current leadership post at the MSMS.

“We’ve lost a lot of professionalism in medicine,” he rued, blaming it on managed care’s view of physicians as a consumer commodity.

A hockey player through his college years, MacKeigan has co-owned a sailboat for three decades, currently mooring it in Muskegon. The father of a daughter and twin sons, MacKeigan said he and his wife, Suzie, frequently make time to see them and their seven grandchildren. While two of his offspring live elsewhere, son Jeff oversees a laboratory at the Van Andel Institute.

“I had to look up where Grand Rapids was on the map when I first came, but I've grown to love it, and we've been here a long time,” MacKeigan said. “It’s a great community. It has huge potential.

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