Med School Inches Toward Blueprint

    GRAND RAPIDS — A potential deal to bring major portions of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids will happen when it happens, if it happens at all.

    MSU President Lou Anna Simon appears confident that an expansion of the med school to Grand Rapids will happen.

    Might a deal be brokered by year’s end?

    “It has to go at the pace that both parties want it to go,” she said. “I’m going to put all the energy I can into making this happen as soon as possible, but only as rapidly as the community wants it to go.”

    Simon takes issue with “the press’s view” that MSU is trying to bail out and pass the $74 million med school budget burden on to someone else.

    “Contrary to the press’s view, I personally feel that in order for us to be a good partner, we have to work in East Lansing to shore up the practice and finances of the medical school,” she told the Business Journal. “This was an opportunity for growth, not an opportunity to move our problem from one location to another.”

    Simon said MSU has been working “very hard” on the quality of the practice in East Lansing, its cost structure, and partnerships with the hospitals to include MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. That move would make the proposed expansion here more financially viable, she said.

    Primary care would remain the focus of undergraduate medical education, which is all about the training of docs, she pointed out. But advance education into specialty and subspecialty care has to be done in a research environment where people are doing cutting-edge work. That’s where the Van Andel Institute comes in and why the institute is spearheading the effort.

    Having the research environment of the VAI already in place would give third- and fourth-year med students here a much more research-intensive environment, as well as experiences in specialty and subspecialty care that they might not otherwise have, Simon said.

    “What will happen with the Grand Rapids-based students starting medical school is that they’re going to have a molecular-, genetic-, futuristic-focused program built on research.”

    Meanwhile, the MSU Medical School Development Team, a stakeholder group formed late last year, is privately trying to hammer out all the details. The development team includes the Grand Action Committee, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, The Right Place Inc., Saint Mary’s Health Care, Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Institute.

    Patrick Kelly, VAI’s vice president of communications and development, said the group meets often and regularly, and organizations on the team have one representative. Rick Breon represents Spectrum Health; John Canepa, Grand Action; Phil McCorkle, Saint Mary’s; Lou Anna Simon, MSU; Mark Murray, GVSU; David Van Andel, VAI; and Birgit Klohs, The Right Place Inc.

    Simon said that other than one or two stakeholder meetings held prior to Jan. 1, MSU has been at the discussion table.

    Steve Heacock, VAI chief administrative officer and general counsel, serves as group facilitator. Mike Jandernoa, former chairman of the board for Perrigo Co., and Dan Gaydou, publisher of The Grand Rapids Press, also sit in on the meetings. Heacock said Jandernoa sits in on behalf of the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor steering committee, which he chairs, while Gaydou, who’s on the board of The Right Place Inc., attends meetings as a representative of Right Place.

    “Dave Van Andel is leading this group and appointed the members of the group,” Heacock said. “He chose people he thought would be helpful and represent the entities that were involved.”

    No city or county officials are included in the stakeholders’ group, but Heacock said they would “certainly be involved” as the discussions move forward.

    VAI’s Kelly said that due to the complexity of the proposed transaction, no timetable for negotiation of a deal has been set.

    The stakeholders’ group plans to develop about a half-dozen work groups to delve deeper into different aspects and issues of bringing a large chunk of the med school here.

    “There’s a need for faculty practice plans that need to be developed between each of the hospitals and Michigan State,” Heacock explained. “There’s a need for some work on educational planning, or the nature of the curriculum that might be included. There will be a group on financing and how that will come together, and there will be a group on research, of course.”

    He expects there will be five to six work groups in all, but doesn’t know as yet how many people will be assigned to each group. The work groups will be formed and begin undertaking their tasks in the next week or two, he said.

    “It is incredibly complex and it’s going to take time,” Heacock said, “but I think people are going to have limited patience for this. So we’re going to get to it, and, certainly, by the end of the year ought to have a real good blueprint on how the thing is going to go forward.”

    Simon said regardless of what pans out, MSU’s medical school is still going to grow its research component.

    “We’re going to grow to $100 million in NIH research in East Lansing whether we do this expansion or not,” she said.    

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