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Mary Free Bed plans to bring its food services functions in house with a new addition at its campus in Grand Rapids. Mary Free Bed plans to bring its food services functions in house with a new addition at its campus in Grand Rapids. COURTESY RENDERING

Strong growth drives Mary Free Bed’s latest addition

BY Sunday, September 15, 2019 05:41pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Strong growth in patient volumes over the last several years led Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital to take on an expansion project much sooner than expected.

The 167-bed rehab hospital’s inpatient and outpatient volumes have more than quadrupled in the eight years since Mary Free Bed formed a statewide care network that brings patients from across Michigan to Grand Rapids.

“We’ve had a lot of growth,” CEO Kent Riddle said. 

That growth has brought to Mary Free Bed more high-acuity patients who are “much sicker” than before — including people who cannot eat solid food — and require more specialized care, Riddle said. 

As a result, Mary Free Bed decided to bring its food services in house. Historically, the organization contracted it from Mercy Health Saint Mary’s hospital next door. The move will enable Mary Free Bed to structure food services to accommodate a patient population that today has far more diverse dietary requirements.

“This campus just continues to get bigger and more complex, serving more people, and so it seemed to be the time to have our own food service,” Riddle said. “We have patients that eight years ago were not requiring the kind of intensity they are now. They are extremely sick and we are rehabilitating them.”

The planned $7.5 million expansion and renovation that begins this winter will create a new kitchen, cafeteria and physician offices housed in a three-story, 11,116-square-foot addition that will rise along Lafayette Avenue. The space is now occupied by an outdoor pediatric playground that will become an indoor play area open for year-round use.

The new cafeteria and kitchen also will serve as rehabilitation space for patients with a disabling injury or illness to learn how to prepare food based on their physical or dietary limitations. The patients could have paralysis or amputations, be confined to a wheelchair or require a walker.

“This is sort of a teaching ground, too,” Riddle said.

Occupancy for the addition is targeted for early 2021, said John Webb, project manager at Mary Free Bed. The hospital expects to bid out the project later this month and award it to a contractor in October, Webb said.

The project is the largest Mary Free Bed has undertaken since a $70 million expansion and renovation at the main hospital campus that opened four years ago. That expansion included a new patient tower to accommodate growth from the statewide care network.

Mary Free Bed didn’t expect to have to expand again for another decade following that project, Riddle said. Strong growth altered that plan.

“The growth was a lot quicker than expected,” he said. “The network has exceeded our expectations, and as a result, we’re seeing a lot more patients coming from all over, not just West Michigan, into this place and that trend is going to continue.”

More to come?

The Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Network today consists of 36 partner hospitals across Michigan that contract with Mary Free Bed to manage their rehab units, plus another eight locations it co-owns or co-manages. Mary Free Bed also has outpatient locations in 20 markets across the Lower Peninsula.

Among the network developments this year are plans for a $40.7 million, 48-bed rehab hospital at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw, a joint operating agreement with Munson Medical Center in Traverse City to manage inpatient and outpatient rehab, and a joint venture signed in May with Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph for advanced orthotic and prosthetic care.

Covenant and Munson are among the network partners that are now asking Mary Free Bed to develop more specialized care in their local markets, Riddle said.

In Grand Rapids, Mary Free Bed has been weighing the future use for 18 additional acute-care beds approved by the state that will take the main campus to 185 licensed beds. A decision on expanding or adding a rehab program with the new licensed beds could come in a year or two, Riddle said.

“We’re debating what we want to do,” he said.

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