Source: Sherman Publications

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Hospital dropped from senate bill

by Mary Keck

October 03, 2012

Senator Mike Kowall's bill to amend Michigan's Certificate of Need (CON) law will reach the senate floor but not with its original language allowing a McLaren hospital in Clarkston.

After Kowall's Bill 1269 left the Economic Development Committee, it retained provisions that would add two citizens, one of which who would act as chair, to the CON commission. The public members would not be affiliated with health care facilities. The bill also eliminates Alliance for Health, a private health-planning agency offering a variety of services.

Although a Clarkston hospital is no longer in Bill 1269, McLaren intends to press on. Jeff Timmer of The Sterling Corporation, a public relations firm working with McLaren, said the bill could be amended when it comes before the Senate or House of Representatives. Timmer said McLaren is engaged in "ongoing discussions with officials in the governor's administration" and may pursue legal action too.

Crain's Detroit Business reported that Sen. Kowall intends to offer an amendment before the senate during their next session on October 17. Kowall did not return calls for comment.

Construction of the $300 million hospital on Sashabaw and Bowpointe is planned for 2015 and would involve relocating 200 beds from McLaren Oakland in Pontiac to Clarkston.

According to Independence Township Fire Department Staff Captain and Paramedic Mitch Petterson, 1,454 people were transported to hospitals in 2012, and 484 of those people were taken in paramedic units because "their condition, illness, or injury was critical and an immediate threat to their life," Petterson said.

Michigan's CON commission denied McLaren's application in July, and Timmer said the commission opposes the hospital because it "is made up largely of representatives from individual hospital systems.

Timmer believes the members who represent hospitals are "making decisions on the economic fate of their competitors, and so no one wants to give a competitive advantage to one of their rivals in the marketplace."

The CON commission is an eleven-member commission with two individuals who represent hospitals, one from a non-profit health care facility, one from a nursing home, and the rest represent nurses, physicians, and insurance companies.

While the commission intends to limit the number of hospitals in Michigan to contain healthcare costs, Timmer says building a hospital in Clarkston will save Michigan $27 million per year in health care costs. From Timmer's perspective, more hospitals will increase competition between health care facilities, thus bringing down costs.

Dennis McCafferty, Vice President of Health Policy for a business and labor coalition called the Economic Alliance for Michigan (EAM), sides with the CON commission. He believes the "redundant capacity" caused by a hospital in Clarkston would increase health care costs.

"Our members' experience has been that when new hospitals are built, the costs of health insurance for the people in that community go up," McCafferty said.

McLaren's motivation to build in Independence Township is based on the insurance of its potential patients because surrounding areas are "less affluent," he said.

"The McLaren effort is one health system seeking to take the patients with better insurance away for the other hospitals in the community," he said.

Along with increases in healthcare costs, McCafferty thinks traffic on Sashabaw will increase because the new hospital would be located close to the DTE Energy music theatre. "At certain times of the year and certain days of the week, it will be impossible to get to the hospital," he said.

Timmer doesn't anticipate traffic problems, however.

"What McLaren is looking to do with their own money is undertake some significant road development to allow for lights and additional left turn lanes to alleviate any kind of traffic congestion," Timmer explained.

McLaren will also work with the county and state to lobby for federal funds to improve the freeway interchange and bridge to better accommodate traffic already stressing that area, Timmer said.