MMPC Chairman Steps Down

    GRAND RAPIDS — Cooperation and collaboration are necessary if the Grand Rapids area has any hope of containing health care costs while maintaining a high level of patient care, said the retiring chairman of the largest physician-owned group practice in Michigan.

    Dr. James Buzzitta announced last week that he is stepping down as chairman and managing shareholder of Michigan Medical PC. Buzzitta, 52, will take on the role of chairman emeritus as he leaves the organization he founded in 1989.

    “People who know me know I put my life in 10-year blocks,” Buzzitta said. “I spent 10 years training to be a doctor, 10 years practicing as a doctor, 10 years running MMPC full-time. In my scheme of things, I was due for moving on to the next level.”

    Buzzitta said the idea to meld together doctors’ practices in a variety of specialties came out of discussions with his medical partner in the mid-1980s. Health care was becoming more complicated to administer. He said the doctors felt ill-prepared for the business side of their practices and preferred to deal with delivering patient care anyway. 

    “Medicine even today is kind of a cottage industry on the physician side,” Buzzitta said, with just a few doctors in the same specialty joining to form a practice.

    “We started brain-storming and thinking, ‘Is there a better way?’ We thought, ‘What if we took some of the best doctors, put them together and worked as a team?’ That was the dream in 1987 that hasn’t changed since then.”

    Today, MMPC’s 200-plus physicians practice in dozens of locations around West Michigan. Each physician is a shareholder in the company and shares the administrative “back room” operations that MMPC provides, such as billing, accounting and appointment scheduling. The shareholders select leaders from among themselves, and those leaders put together the administrative team, Buzzitta said.

    “I think the model is still a very good model,” he said. “There are many other new challenges: How do medical groups and physicians work not only with other physicians, but with hospitals and insurance companies? That’s the next evolution of trying to figure out where does health care go. Costs continue to escalate. Those of us in health care really have to put our heads together to do something about it.”

    Buzzitta said the aborted attempt last year to merge MMPC and other physician practices into a Spectrum Health-owned entity was an idea whose time had not yet come.

    “That was nothing more than what I alluded to earlier: What’s the next evolution of health care for our region?” Buzzitta said. “We spent several months of just looking at the legality of it. … As it turned out, it is possible legally and regulatory to do it. Then we were going to take it to the next level; let’s have a discussion. That’s when it kind of developed a little emotion for those who didn’t understand what the prospect was about, and it got derailed. It was a little bit before its time.”

    Buzzitta said he intends to join his brother, Joe, in a more active role in Hughes Management, the Grand Rapids real estate firm founded by their late father, Louis, about 20 years ago. The company specializes in medical buildings, he said. He said his role has been growing in the family company since his father’s death in 2001.

    “So we now have a pretty sizeable portfolio,” he said. “It’s my personal choice to spend a little bit more time in the family business.”

    A member of the Spectrum Health System board, Buzzitta said he’ll be available to MMPC as chairman emeritus, a role he anticipates will be largely ceremonial. “It allows them to pick my brain from time to time,” he said, but he thinks it’s also time for him to step aside to allow the organization to “evolve.”

    He also intends to spend more time with his children: Kristin, a pre-med and business student at the University of Notre Dame; Jack, a soon-to-be graduate of Catholic Central High School heading to Marquette University for engineering studies; and Sara, a Catholic Central student. Buzzitta, of Cascade, is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Wayne State University Medical School. He completed his residency at Butterworth Hospital in 1983. 

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