Spectrum Health Extends its legacy

February 5, 2011
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For anyone who remembers the red neon “Butterworth Hospital” sign that used to hover over downtown Grand Rapids, the emergence of Spectrum Health since 1997 is nothing short of astounding.

The old Butterworth nursing school? Discharged. Burger King on the Michigan Street hill? Deposed. Ferguson Hospital? Digested.

Nineteenth century industrialist Richard E. Butterworth couldn’t possibly have imagined what the future would bring when he donated land for a hospital at the corner of Michigan Street and Bostwick Avenue in 1890.

Even as Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals merged in 1997, a strategic plan was being laid out that finally found fruition with the formal opening of the $286 million, 206-bed Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in January.

Since the merger, Spectrum Health’s more than $500 million in capital investments in downtown, buoyed by donations from a generous community, have been unlike anything Grand Rapids has seen. The Renucci Hospitality House, $5.8 million; the Frederik and Lena Meijer Heart Center, $80 million; the Women and Children’s Health Center, $23 million; the Lemmen Holton Cancer Pavilion, $92 million. Another $98 million went into a new patient tower and renovations at Blodgett Hospital in East Grand Rapids, now just one “member of Spectrum Health” but carrying a legacy as a building block for today’s wide-ranging health system.

The urban renewal has been accompanied by investments in medical technology. Following a national trend, the Spectrum Health Medical Group is adding doctors to the hospital roster, spending millions in the process. Two large area practices, Michigan Medical PC and West Michigan Heart, now are part of Spectrum.

Spectrum also has expanded its footprint by adding an array of community hospitals in West Michigan to its fold: Gerber Memorial in Fremont, Kelsey Memorial in Lakeview, United Memorial in Greenville, Reed City Hospital and, most recently, Zeeland Community Hospital. Spectrum is managing Mecosta County Medical Center and an acquisition may be pending.

Not every plan to merge with smaller hospitals has ended successfully; negotiations dissolved with Munson Healthcare in Traverse City and Northern Michigan Regional Hospital in Petoskey.

What began as a small health maintenance organization with 1,261 members in 1986 now is a wide-ranging health insurer with majority ownership resting in Spectrum Health. Today, Priority Health covers about 500,000 lives across the Lower Peninsula, after its 2008 acquisition of Care Choices provided an entry into the Southeast Michigan market. According to the audit of Spectrum Health’s finances for fiscal year 2010, Priority Health’s operational revenue of $1.68 billion topped patient care revenue of $1.4 billion.

Spectrum Health now has more than 16,000 employees and is the largest employer in Kent County. Spectrum and its neighbors, such as the Van Andel Institute, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Grand Valley State University and a string of medical offices, have given Michigan Street a new name: Medical Mile.

Now, as Spectrum Health carries the Butterworth and Blodgett legacies into the 21st  century, federal health care reform presents a new set of challenges, Spectrum Health President and CEO Rick Breon told an audience at GVSU in November.

“Our approach has been to try to make the future, to try to work with it, as opposed to waiting and reacting,” Breon said. “I think Grand Rapids is in a very good position. We’re not perfect; we have issues we need to resolve. But I like our chances.”

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