Alliance for Health OK’s $24M in hospital construction projects


The Alliance for Health has given its endorsement to two proposed major construction projects at Spectrum Health facilities in Grand Rapids and a major expansion project at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services needed to accommodate seasonal spikes in young patients.

The unanimous votes of endorsement by AFH members will be reported to the Michigan Department of Community Health once some discrepancies in dollar amounts contained in Spectrum’s Certificate of Need application are cleared up, according to AFH president Lody Zwarensteyn. He expects the state to act on the proposals by June 3.

The state government’s CON process is designed to help prevent wasteful inefficiencies in the medical care system that result in unnecessary cost being passed on to the public.

Spectrum Health is proposing to renovate the 8th floor of Butterworth Center Tower at a cost of $9,950,000, and to build out the thus-far unused fifth floor of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, also at an estimated cost of $9,950,000.

Cindy Reistroffer, director of Women’s and Infant Services at Spectrum Health Hospitals in Grand Rapids, said the goal is to consolidate women’s services in the Butterworth Center Tower, where three floors were left vacant after the opening three years ago of the children’s hospital. She noted that more births take place in Butterworth hospital than any other in Michigan; last year there were 7,400. The change also will open up more beds in the adult wing of Butterworth.

Zwarensteyn noted that the ultimate question when a hospital wants to invest in construction is: “Is this a nicety or a necessity?” He added that, after reviewing the information from Spectrum, the Alliance staff decided to endorse the project because “we’re not comfortable second guessing” the hospital administration.

Shari Schwanzl, vice president of nursing services at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said the expansion there is a necessity because of the overflow of patients during the flu season. From December through March or April, she said, occupancy at the children’s hospital is “one hundred percent and beyond.” The overflow has resulted in putting children in the adult portions of the hospital, so the hospital decided to finish and use the fifth floor, which had been left uncompleted until it was needed. The proposed new unit will have 24 beds, to be brought from other areas in the Butterworth complex, so there will not be any actual increase in total beds there.

Schwanzl said this past winter, the intensive care unit of the children’s hospital had an overflow for the first time. She also pointed to the use of the emergency department as an example of the unanticipated demand since the hospital opened. In the planning stage, administrators estimated the average number of patients in the ED would range from 80 to 90 per day, but Schwanzl said it is running from 130 to 140 — and on one day, in particular, there were 247 patients seen.

Bob Nykamp, vice president and COO of Pine Rest, said that if anyone called there now requesting an evaluation for a youngster, it would probably be September before the patient could be seen. Part of the problem is a shortage of psychiatric physicians in this region, but Pine Rest has a plan to begin a psychiatric residency training program for 32 med school graduates. Health care industry studies show many new doctors remain permanently in the region where they did their residency training.

Construction of a new wing at Pine Rest — which was endorsed by Alliance members last week — would cost $4,385,360 and provide space for 10 new beds, which would be “flex” beds for either adult or under-18 patients.

Nykamp said there is a sharp fluctuation in young patients at Pine Rest, too; in this case, it follows the school year, with the spike beginning in October, about the time teachers and school administrators have recognized severe emotional problems among that year’s crop of students.

Zwarensteyn told the Business Journal there has long been a cooperative partnership between Pine Rest and Saint Mary’s Health Care, with psychiatric patient beds allocated by the state to Saint Mary’s actually being located at Pine Rest. He said that collaboration has been “wonderful.”

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