Saint Mary’s, Metro Library Deal Could Spark More Links

July 10, 2008
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WYOMING — A partnership that will bring a branch of the Lacks Cancer Center's Warren Reynolds Library to Metro Health's new cancer center is the first sign of a growing interest in joint projects for the two local hospitals.

"We are meeting on a regular basis to discuss other ways we can collaborate and work together to improve health care for residents in West Michigan," Metro Health Vice President of Growth Strategies Brian Jepson said. "It's certainly not just limited to cancer."

He said quarterly meetings have included, in addition to himself, the CEOs of both hospitals — Phil McCorkle of Saint Mary's and Mike Faas of Metro Health; Saint Mary's COO Randy Wagner; and medical directors Dr. David Baumgartner of Saint Mary's and Dr. Bill Cunningham of Metro.

But those meetings have been occurring more frequently as the two hospitals try to capitalize on a roll, Jepson said.

"We're feeling right now we have some momentum, and we are wanting to capitalize on the momentum we have," he said.

Wagner, who spent 25 years at Butterworth Hospital and its successor, Spectrum Health, said collaborations between Grand Rapids hospitals are nothing new.

"I'm not sure there's anything different in terms of what we're trying to accomplish: that is, more efficient, broader access to health care service," Wagner said. "We have different players and different circumstances at each of our two hospitals that may have created an opportunity for us to work more closely together. We're not necessarily trying to knock anybody down. We are trying to hold hands, albeit more tightly."

Jepson noted that collaborations between the two already include quality initiatives through the Regional Delivery Network, which also includes Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Carson Health Network and Sheridan Community Hospital. "That's something we can continue to build on," Jepson said.

Wagner said they've discussed collaborating on physician recruitment and sharing technology.

"Obviously, the people who are sitting around the room are those individuals who are positioned in the organization to understand the different strategies, long-range goals and visions that each of the organizations have," Wagner added. "Having that understanding, we're able to talk about where there are consistencies around those goals and visions, and what opportunities might be available to us to share the vision and the resources to be successful around those goals."

The Cancer Center at Metro Health Village, 5950 Metro Way SW, opened June 30 for chemotherapy services under the auspices of Dr. Michael Zakem, a partner in Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan and a long-time leader at Metro Health.

For radiation services, Metro Health is becoming the eighth member of the University of Michigan's Radiation Oncology Network, which provides supervision and expertise for radiation programs across the state. Those services are expected to launch in the fall.

Competition in cancer care is heating up in West Michigan, as providers look for efficiencies in the face of shrinking reimbursements and vie for patient loyalty with value-added services such as food service, counseling and reduced paperwork.

Spectrum Health's Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion also opened June 30. Spectrum also is a partner in the Lakeshore Area Radiation Oncology Center in Holland, which is undergoing a major remodeling this year. Earlier this year, Muskegon's Mercy Health Partners unveiled a new cancer treatment center that had been planned prior to the April merger of Mercy General and Hackley hospitals.

Those cancer centers join the Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary's, which opened in 2005 and is the only one that incorporates its inpatient cancer unit.

"Time will tell. I feel like they (Metro Health and U-M) are drawing away from the hubs that we're trying to make at Saint Mary's and at Spectrum, where we can now pull the volume together we need," said Dr. Mark Campbell, president of CHCWM and executive director of the Spectrum Health Regional Cancer Network.

"Would we be better if we had a pediatric program out there, too? Would we be better if we had a Level 1 Trauma Center out there? Would we be better to move some burn patients out there? Would we be better to take other services that we realize, in order to maintain this high-tech team that we need, that we divide the volume of work and we parcel it off?

"If you think that gets you better care, then you should do it. If you think it moves you further from the mark, then I really don't think you should do it."

It's difficult to justify the cost of providing high-level equipment and personnel at every location, Campbell said. But he said the presence of the University of Michigan in the local health care market will be too small to pose much threat to Spectrum Health's Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

"Radiotherapy is not for every patient. It's for a fraction of patients and it's only for a finite period," he said.

Metro Health and the University of Michigan Health System signed a contract recently for U-M to provide radiation services at Metro Health's new center, beginning later this year. On hand for the signing were Metro Health President & CEO Mike Faas, Dr. Michael Zakem of Metro Health and Cancer & Hematology Centers of Western Michigan, and Dr. Theodore Lawrence, who heads the U-M Medical School's Department of Radiation Oncology.

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