Money May Break Med School Deal

    LANSING — It’s becoming about the money.

    Spectrum Health directors want to see it, or at least have a good idea of what it’s going to cost and who’s going to foot the bill to bring Michigan State University’s medical school to Grand Rapids.

    While each agrees that having a medical school campus in Grand Rapids potentially has enormous benefits, the cost implications involved have Spectrum Health’s directors asking for much more information from East Lansing before the health system signs on to MSU’s proposal to bring to town much of its College of Human Medicine.

    The issue comes down to ensuring that Spectrum Health can maintain its position as a low-cost provider of specialized care that offers high quality and a good value to West Michigan. Spectrum Health leaders want to ensure that affiliating with MSU’s medical school won’t add to the administrative cost structure in a way that erodes that value by affecting the health system’s cost, quality and access to care.

    MSU President Peter McPherson said he shares that view and believes a mutually beneficial solution is achievable.

    “The opportunities for West Michigan and for Michigan State are very substantial, so we need to proceed to find a way to make it not just work out but be a great alliance,” McPherson said last Thursday following a public hearing in East Lansing on a conceptual proposal to develop a full, four-year medical school campus in Grand Rapids by 2009 through an affiliation with Spectrum Health.

    “In concept, our objectives are very consistent,” he said. “It strikes me that a medical school in Grand Rapids has to be compatible with those and, in fact, drive their mission.”

    Spectrum Health directors indicated there are “significant financial and operational issues” that MSU and the health system need to work out before they can decide on forging an affiliation with the College of Human Medicine.

    While directors have numerous questions about the move, the main issue is finances, Spectrum Health President and Chief Executive Officer Rick Breon said. Michigan State needs to provide more details on cost — details that McPherson at this point does not want to share publicly — before directors can make any decisions, Breon said.

    “We need to have a better expectation of what the numbers are and what the expectation is. If there is money to be raised, where’s it going to come from?” Breon said. “The finances are very much a deal breaker.”

    The Spectrum Health board of directors, at its regular bi-monthly meeting on April 27, discussed but took no action on MSU’s proposal to develop a medical school campus in Grand Rapids.

    McPherson unveiled a proposal last month to expand the College of Human Medicine with a new campus in Grand Rapids under an affiliation with Spectrum Health, with classes for second-year medical students targeted to begin in the fall of 2006 and first-year medical student classes beginning in 2007. The expansion into Grand Rapids would quickly evolve into a full, four-year medical school by 2009.

    In a statement issued after their April 27 meeting, Spectrum Health directors said that “fundamental operational and budget issues still must be resolved before Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine could expand to Grand Rapids.”

    Spectrum Health will continue discussions on the issue, and directors expect a resolution by no later than the end of the year.

    The health system is not tied to MSU’s May 7 date to decide on what McPherson terms an “agreement in principle” to proceed further and begin implementing the conceptual proposal that lays out a framework for developing a Grand Rapids campus for the College of Human Medicine.

    At the same time, Spectrum Health does not want discussions to drag on too long, Breon said.

    “We want to push this process at a reasonable pace, but at some point you do have to put that end point on it,” he said.

    The decision facing MSU trustees this week is whether to agree in principle to the proposal for a Grand Rapids medical school campus and proceed with detailed discussions.

    At last week’s public hearing, an assortment of MSU faculty and Lansing-area residents questioned the wisdom of moving a good share of the medical school to Grand Rapids, citing concerns over continuity of care in the Lansing health-care market, collaboration with academic colleagues and how a split campus would affect the recruitment of students and faculty.

    Based on the data generated so far and what he’s seen and heard, MSU Board of Trustees Chairman David Porteous believes those discussions should go forward, although he stopped short of saying whether he would vote that way this week.

    “At this point in time, I have not seen anything that, to me, would say ‘Stop,'” Porteous said. “I haven’t seen anything that would indicate to me we shouldn’t continue to discuss, we shouldn’t continue to analyze or we shouldn’t continue to move forward.”           

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