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McLaren hospital bid reaches state senate

September 19, 2012 - McLaren's pre-hearing to appeal their Certificate of Need (CON) denial was postponed for thirty days, but advocates for hospital in Independence Township took to other forums.

On September 12, Senator Mike Kowall, who represents District 15, introduced Bill 1269 to amend the Public Health Code governing CONs. Because the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) denied McLaren's CON, they won't be able to go through with their building plans unless the CON process is changed legislatively.

Kowall's bill would allow McLaren to relocate 200 beds from their hospital in Pontiac without a CON. It would also change the CON Commission from an eleven-member board to a thirteen-member board.

The current CON Commission is made up of hospital representatives, physicians, nurses, individuals from companies that are both self-insured and not self-insured for health coverage, a Blue Cross Blue Shield official, and a labor union representative. Senator Kowall wants the CON commission to have two additional members who would represent the general public.

The proposed bill was referred to the Economic Development committee for analysis. On September 13, the Economic Development committee determined, "There is little reason to expect a significant change in tax revenue upon the opening of the hospital." Rather than an create jobs, the Economic Development committee believes relocating the beds to Clarkston would only result in a shift in jobs.

Trustee candidate Jose Aliaga, who was in attendance when Kowall introduced the bill, doesn't agree with the Economic Development committee's findings. Aliaga believes a new hospital "will be a tax base for us" and "increase property value." He also pointed to the time it takes to get from Independence Township to the nearest hospital as a reason to build a hospital here too.

According to Independence Township Fire Department Staff Captain and Paramedic Mitch Petterson, it takes about 20 minutes for an ambulance to transport a patient to a nearby hospital. "The faster we can get you to a hospital, the better," Petterson said.

"Access as an issue in healthcare is one of the most fundamental," said McLaren's Vice President of Marketing Kevin Tompkins.

On the other hand, some believe the hospital will only offer basic health care services and in cases of emergency, patients will still have a twenty-minute ambulance ride.

Dennis McCafferty, Waterford native and Vice President of Health Policy for the Economic Alliance for Michigan (EAM) said the proposed project in Clarkston is for a small community hospital. "It is not going to have open heart surgery. . . it is not equipped to handle heart attacks," said McCafferty. "If there is a major snow mobile accident, the EMS is not going to transport you to that hospital."

Gregory Lane, the McLaren Healthcare Senior Vice President, told the Planning Commission in June the proposed hospital will be a Level II trauma center.

"There is nothing in their proposal that says they're going to have a cardiac care team there," said McCafferty. "They would have to get yet another certificate of need for that."

While McCafferty concedes that a hospital will bring jobs to Clarkston, he says it will do so at the expense of Pontiac, Royal Oak, Commerce Township, and other places.

McCafferty said doctors will simply move their patients to the new facility for their routine care, and when "other hospitals lose patient volume, they will reduce their staff appropriately."

According to Tompkins, a new hospital would create 2,000 jobs, and for Pontiac Oakland nothing will change.

From Tompkins' point of view, moving 200 beds from Pontiac Oakland, which currently has 335 beds, is about efficiency. "We're not looking for new hospital beds," Tompkins points out. "We're looking to move 200 that are currently down at our McLaren Oakland location. There are 200 beds that sit empty everyday."

McCafferty's sees developing a new hospital as building redundant capacity, and the $300 million spent to build it will be repaid by everyone who buys insurance.

Tulika Bhattacharya of the MDCH agrees with McCafferty. "If there is no unmet need we are approving more than required services," she said. "If you have more than required, then that adds to the healthcare costs."

Bhattacharya says Macomb and Oakland counties are overbedded by 1,097 beds when only 2,946 beds are needed. Right now Macomb and Oakland have 4,043 hospital beds. The MDCH determines the number of beds based on "on population and utilization rates that is supported by the hospitals," said Bhattacharya.

She said when McLaren applied for a CON, they were not able to "demonstrate that there is an unmet need in the community."

Clarkston News reporter
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