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Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming will soon add open-heart surgery under a partnership with Mercy Health that will also bring competition with Spectrum Health in the West Michigan market. Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming will soon add open-heart surgery under a partnership with Mercy Health that will also bring competition with Spectrum Health in the West Michigan market. COURTESY PHOTO

Open-heart surgery partnership could spur more collaboration between Metro, Mercy

BY Sunday, April 11, 2021 06:45pm

Anew partnership for open-heart surgery could provide a broader base for Metro Health-University of Michigan Health and Mercy Health to further collaborate on specialized medical care in the years ahead.

Plans for the Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan came together as Metro Health sought state certificate of need (CON) approval to perform heart surgery at Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming. The state approved the CON request in late March, enabling Metro Health to launch a competing open-heart surgery program next spring in the Grand Rapids metro area.

The Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan is the second major partnership between Metro Health and Mercy Health. The partnership also includes Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center in Ann Arbor that’s home to the Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

The health systems previously formed a similar venture, the Cancer Network of West Michigan, last year for oncology.

Although additional partnerships aren’t presently under consideration for the two health systems, Metro Health CEO Peter Hahn sees potential for further collaboration. That may not occur for some time, as Metro and Mercy for now focus on their cancer and cardiovascular partnerships, Hahn said.

“Could there be other programs that we collaborate on? Absolutely. We’re early into cancer and now just getting (cardiovascular) up and running. I suspect it may be a while before we do the next one,” Hahn said. “I want to see this one take off, and I really want to see cancer truly make a meaningful difference to our community. ‘Let’s get two successful ones under the belt and then really look at another’ is sort of the way I’m thinking.”

Neurosciences is “a potential possibility” and “certainly one we would probably look at next” once the new cardiovascular network and cancer partnership are running at full speed, he said.

‘Just the foundation’

The Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan represents “another step” with Metro Health and Michigan Medicine following the formation of the cancer network last summer and other collaborations, said Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Interim President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matt Biersack.

The partnership will give Mercy Health a greater breadth and depth of specialized cardiac care and cardiovascular research, Biersack said.

Mercy Health Muskegon also staffs its open-heart surgery program with Michigan Medicine surgeons. Michigan Medicine physicians also provide electrophysiology — a test to diagnose abnormal heartbeats or arrhythmia — at Metro Health, Mercy Health Muskegon and Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.

“At this point in time, these are the programs to focus on. But, hopefully, this is just the foundation for us to improve general care in the West Michigan region,” Biersack said. “Our relationship with Michigan Medicine and Metro and Mercy is limited to oncology and cardiovascular care, but we’ll see where these relationships take us. If there are other opportunities we identify that will help us to improve access to specialty care here in West Michigan, that may be something that we look at going forward.”

Open-heart competition

Metro Health looks to launch open-heart surgery within a year through the new partnership with Mercy Health and Michigan Medicine. The CON approval enables Metro Health to bring a second open-heart surgery program to Grand Rapids that competes with Spectrum Health, which has one of the largest programs in the state.

The partnership for the Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan will create “truly a world-class cardiovascular program” that’s “going to be a game-changer,” Hahn said.

In its application to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Metro Health forecasted doing 311 heart surgeries annually that would include coronary artery bypass, cardiac valve repair or replacement, and repairing birth defects of the heart.

The partnership through a joint operating agreement will allow Metro, Mercy and Michigan Medicine to share expertise and medical staff. The three will work out a final operating agreement in the coming months.

In West Michigan, open-heart surgery is now performed at Spectrum Health in downtown Grand Rapids and Mercy Health Muskegon, plus in Southwest Michigan at Ascension Borgess Hospital and Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, and in St. Joseph at Spectrum Health Lakeland Hospital.

Hahn estimates that Metro Health, which had steadily built cardiovascular care for years before pursuing approval to do open-heart surgery, refers about 200 cardiac patients annually for heart surgery, mostly to Spectrum Health.

“That is probably an underestimation because there were patients that didn’t come to us because we didn’t have open-heart capabilities at the time,” he said.

The partnership also keeps Metro Health and Mercy Health from competing for heart patients. The two health systems instead will operate a joint program that will “be site agnostic,” Hahn said. “It’s going to be one program.”

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