Mercy Health’s Plan To Close ER, Surgery at Hackley Campus Generates Concerns

Last week, Mercy Health Partners made public a set of plans to consolidate some of its major operations from its Hackley campus to its Mercy campus by 2016, citing changes in the nationwide model of healthcare. However, several questions and concerns are weighing on the mind of one employee of the system.

Hackley Hospital and Mercy Hospital, as they existed formerly, now are part of one larger company called Mercy Health Partners, which formed out of a merger approximately five years ago. Both of these hospitals, plus the Lakes campus on Harvey Street as well as the former Muskegon General hospital campus off of Apple Avenue, are part of a larger, nationwide company called Trinity Health.

Now, Mercy Health Partners wants to remove some of the duplication of services seen across Mercy and Hackley by moving the emergency aspects solely to the Mercy campus, which would see a $97 million expansion in the process.

Interim president and chief operating officer Greg Loomis indicates that the move is in response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare”.  The health care bill’s chief provisions include efforts to keep costs down, fees based on results, and what is often referred to as a “wellness care” model, which strives to maintain healthy behaviors instead of waiting to see a patient when they are sick or injured.

As this style of care takes hold, Mercy Health believes fewer emergency room visits may be needed. One emergency campus would also reduce costs for the health system overall.

Loomis stated last week that the system’s birthing center and Great Lakes Specialty Hospital would remain at the Hackley campus. A “high functioning” urgent care unit, endoscopy, laboratory services and inpatient behavioral health are among the services that will remain there as well.

The Hackley campus at Peck Street and Laketon was built, largely with money gifted from lumber baron Charles Hackley in 1902.  Aside from its emergency room improvements in use over the past decade, Hackley has seen less expansion and improvement than the former Mercy Hospital campus on Sherman Boulevard, which is now part of the same company. The Mercy campus has seen a heart center, cancer center and other improvements in recent years.

Also in the health system is the former Muskegon General hospital on Oak Street off of Apple Avenue; it is the least-utilized of the three hospital-style facilities in the county.

Reaction from community health and business leaders over the past week, including the county’s health department director and Muskegon’s mayor, has ranged from indecision to support.

Muskegon mayor Steve Gawron wants to see more details before endorsing the idea. F. Remington Sprague, who is medical director of Mercy Health Partners and as involved in local theater, cited statistics saying Mercy’s emergency rooms are misused, receiving double the visits than the average for a community the size of Muskegon.

Last Tuesday night, Muskegon’s city commission heard a concerned citizen’s claims regarding the relocation of the emergency room and surgical department of the Hackley campus.

Dawn Dach, a CAT scan technician at the Hackley campus spoke at Tuesday’s city commission meeting on the matter. Her 31-year employment at the Hackley campus spans both Mercy Health Partners and its predecessor, the independent Hackley Hospital.

Dach’s comments appear to be the first public announcement of the plans, which were revealed to media sources the latter half of last week.

At the commission meeting, Dach spoke of a dinner meeting held on February 11, 2013 between interim Mercy Health Partners CEO Greg Loomis and representatives of local unions and professional associations.  The meeting in question took place in the auditorium on the Hackley campus and included representatives from the Service Employees International Union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and the Michigan Nurses Association.  The meeting featured a Powerpoint presentation by Loomis and a question and answer session.

The presentation included diagrams of a 2-stage construction project, which have since been made public, that would see a new surgery floor built in a new building on the health system’s Mercy Campus, and an extension on its existing emergency room, which would include a 17-bed observation unit for the ER, which would not necessarily all be full-scale care rooms.

A 28-bed intensive care unit expansion, mechanical building improvements and a skywalk bridge between the new building and the existing emergency building are also seen in diagrams from this presentation.  Loomis confirmed last week that Hackley Hospital would retain space more beds than it would actively utilize.

The leading concern Dach expressed regarding the consolidation was the new total capacity the one facility could handle when it opens in 2016.

According to Dach, the health system serviced 115,000 people in its emergency room last year. The new emergency room will be able to handle 70,000 visits a year, a full 45,000 less than Mercy Health’s 2012 levels across both emergency rooms combined.

Similar to Dr. Sprague’s public comments on the proper or improper use of emergency rooms, Dach acknowledged during Monday’s meeting that not all ER visits are true emergencies. However, she stated that many of those who use the ER for non-emergencies do so because they cannot find or afford primary care physicians in Muskegon.

“I find it difficult to understand that Mercy is going to curtail services without community understanding,” said Dach.  “I also am afraid this is happening without a safety net for those without primary care physicians.”

Dach expressed feelings of frustration with Mercy’s internal communication on the matter. Official communications to staff state that the plan was “pending approval of finances”, however management on site were telling staff that the plan was a “done deal.”

The Mercy Health Partners plan needs approval by its parent company, Trinity Health, before any work is set to begin. If approved immediately, Loomis indicated that construction could start as soon as summer of 2013.

 

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst