Metro Is On The Move

    (Editor’s note: One of 10 stories profiling the finalists for Thursday’s Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year Award.)

    GRAND RAPIDS — It’s known as the “visioning center.”

    Housed in the corporate offices of Metropolitan Hospital, the conference room has become the place where employees and medical staff can offer ideas, comments or quibbles to the architects designing a new $141.9 suburban hospital campus.

    “We’re all now realizing that it’s more real now than it was weeks ago and we’re now all pretty energized,” said Jim Childress, vice president of public relations and marketing at Metro Hospital, which last month moved a giant step closer to developing a new “health care village” in suburban Wyoming.

    The Michigan Department of Community Health issued a certificate of need to Metro to proceed with construction of a new hospital that will anchor the health care village envisioned for the 160-acre site at Byron Center Avenue and the South Beltline freeway. Metro hopes to open the new 208-bed, 448,000-square-foot hospital in 2006.

    “This approval transforms Metropolitan from a small hospital with a big problem to a hospital with a bright future and a big idea whose time has come,” Metro Chief Executive Officer and President Mike Faas said.

    The state’s issuance of a CON ended a nearly two-year, often contentious effort that Metro triggered to change certificate of need standards governing hospital relocations in Michigan.

    In the process, Metro also ignited a debate over the merits of CON in Michigan. That debate ended in December when the Legislature approved and Gov. John Engler signed a bill reforming CON, a regulatory program that requires hospitals and health care providers to justify a market demand before they may initiate certain clinical services and undertake major capital improvements. The goal is to prevent the costly duplication of medical services and assure quality.

    Metro executives, in making the case for relocating the hospital to a new campus, cited an inability to expand at its existing site on Grand Rapids’ southeast side to accommodate burgeoning patient volumes. Executives also cited a need for a far more efficient facility that would enable Metro to better compete with the two other hospitals in Kent County, most notably Spectrum Health.

    Metro’s outpatient volumes grew 76 percent from 1995 to 2000. Emergency room visits grew 75 percent during the period, while births increased 45 percent and surgical procedures rose 20 percent.

    As it gains market with the new facility, Metro anticipates inpatient admissions growing from 8,439 in its 2002 fiscal year to 9,010 by FY 2007 and to 10,132 by 2009. Metro’s emergency room visits also are projected to grow nearly 80 percent between now and 2009, from 36,761 to 66,109 annually.

    Childress expects architects to have a site plan for the new hospital ready by the end of February for Wyoming city planners to consider.

    “We are now doing the heavy lifting of designing this thing and deciding what goes where,” Childress said.

    On the broader vision, Metro plans to host public forums this winter to gauge opinions and gather ideas for its proposed health care village, which would include numerous complementary services such as physician offices, a medical wellness center, disease clinics, a nursing home and a pharmacy.

    “This is much larger than the hospital,” Metro Chief Financial Officer Smedes said during a November meeting of the Alliance for Health’s CON Evaluation Board that endorsed the project. “We want this site to become viewed more as a destination for wellness, rather than sickness.”

    The site may also see non-health care development such as lodging, restaurants, retail uses and day care.

    Metro, meanwhile, is working with a developer to have its current 14-acre site redeveloped for housing.

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