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MCCALEB: Local health care conversations are needed

• Mar 30, 2016 at 1:00 PM

Over the years, our communities have worked hard on collaboration. As neighbors, we work together with mutual respect and the philosophy that the best outcome for each entity is also best for all. That respect has yielded our NOWS water system, our wastewater system and our Harbor Transit transportation system, to name just a few of our collaborative efforts.

Now we find ourselves dealing with the question of Spectrum Health and Holland Hospital’s Health Pointe project and how that facility will affect the North Ottawa Community Health System. There has been a full-fledged inpatient hospital presence serving area residents for over 100 years. None of us know anything other than the hospital on Sheldon being open 24/7 with an emergency room, a birthing unit, and a long and growing list of services available to everyone who walks through the doors.

There are 11 seats on the hospital board. Each community that is a part of the NOCH System has a seat on the board and we each have an interest in and responsibility for the continuing viability of our local hospital. NOCH is a 501(c)3, and its bylaws clearly state that the hospital cannot be sold without the approval of the board and subsequent vote of the people of all the communities represented. So, the residents and taxpayers of our various cities and townships each have a medical as well as a financial interest to preserve this shared asset.

NOCH employs more than 800 people, many of whom live locally. These are our friends and neighbors; they have a great interest in maintaining quality health care. There is also the added factor of local industry recruiting and keeping highly skilled individuals; it is a great asset having a quality, full-service hospital close at hand.

The Harbor Dunes medical office building, connected to the hospital, was built for primary care doctors in our community. Today, 28,000 square feet of the office space is for Spectrum doctors alone. The proposed Health Pointe facility is 122,000 square feet and would be the new home of Spectrum doctors now at Harbor Dunes. This facility, as proposed, will be much larger than the new Spectrum building on the East Belt Line, or any other that Spectrum has built in the area.

It has been somewhat difficult to ascertain exactly what services will be provided at the proposed Health Pointe facility. What is clear, particularly with the zoning change which was approved by the Grand Haven Township Board on March 14, is that it will not just be doctors’ offices. There will be X-ray, CT scans, MRI, surgical units, urgent care — and this is all part of phase 1.

I have heard the argument that Health Pointe will offer competition to NOCH. I am a fan of competition, and today patients have the choice of working with doctors from all neighboring systems right within NOCH. Patients needing more complex care have the choice of Muskegon, Holland, Grand Rapids, anywhere they want to go because all options are open in the system today. If Spectrum changes that dynamic by pulling the best reimbursed medical procedures from NOCH, it deprives NOCH of those dollars; subsequently, the other services that NOCH provides that aren’t self-sustaining will be at risk; services such as 24-hour emergency room, a family birthing unit or rehabilitative services. If these services disappear, local folks will be inconvenienced at best, for those without good transportation, or the elderly, it will be much harder.

These are very real concerns and the reason why we desperately need to have a conversation about the implication of the Health Pointe project that to this point hasn’t taken place. This project has moved rather quickly through the Grand Haven Township process. I have attended several of the meetings and I fully sympathize with the difficult position the Township Board is in, but there is a lot at stake. The township PUD language is clear: “The intent of a PUD is to provide regulation for developments that would result in recognizable and substantial benefits to the ultimate users of a project and to the community in general where such benefits would be unfeasible or unlikely to be achieved.”

I want Spectrum physicians and services available to local residents.

We have a great partnership with Spectrum today, and can build on that into the future. I do not want to lose the hospital that has been in our community for more than a century. I am certain there are many valuable services that Spectrum could bring to our community that would fill the gaps that exist locally. Let’s have that conversation.

Let’s sit down and determine what things are needed in our community, what gaps need to be filled. How should we address those services that are missing? Let’s put the interest of the 50,000 people who live in Northern Ottawa County first and become stronger together for the benefit of all.

— By Geri McCaleb, mayor of Grand Haven

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