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Sunday, 11 October 2015 20:57

Spectrum, Saint Mary’s now look to launch own medical residency programs

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Dr. David Baumgartner Dr. David Baumgartner

GRAND RAPIDS — Citing a need to change how new doctors are trained, Spectrum Health wants to launch its own medical residency program.

The move is prompted by an impasse in efforts to alter an existing partnership with Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, which sees the changes Spectrum Health wants as an attempt to wrest control of Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners.

Mercy Health Saint Mary’s leaders worry that the changes would give Spectrum Health too much control over graduate medical education in Grand Rapids and provide the health system with a competitive advantage in recruiting new physicians to the market.

The impasse may lead to the dissolution — at least in its present form — of Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners, which places medical residents at both health systems. That’s because Mercy Health Saint Mary’s now looks to sponsor its own residency program and work with other partners from around West Michigan.

“The partnership as it has existed is going to end,” said Dr. David Baumgartner, the executive medical director for specialty services at Mercy Health Physician Partners at Saint Mary’s. “It certainly is not going to continue as a partnership between Saint Mary’s and Spectrum.”

GRMEP coordinates the placement of medical residents from Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine at Spectrum Health, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and physician practices in the Grand Rapids area.

The nonprofit GRMEP places hundreds of medical students annually from around the United States.

To Spectrum Health, the issue between the two health systems comes down to wanting to expand the medical residency program into new areas based on today’s needs and to reflect what the health system has become as a provider of specialized care.

“We’re no longer the hospital we were 20 years ago,” said Tina Freese-Decker, president of the Spectrum Health Hospital Group.

Spectrum Health is awaiting approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the accrediting body for medical residency programs in the U.S., to sponsor its own medical residency positions that for years have been sponsored by GRMEP. Once Spectrum Health gets that approval, perhaps as early as this month, it will seek approval for individual residency programs in a variety of medical fields that are structured to reflect the evolving health care landscape.

Doing so would give Spectrum Health the flexibility to design programs and curriculum as needed.

“Spectrum Health’s resident and fellowship training must keep pace with the significant changes in health care, particularly a greater emphasis on coordinated care, quality and safety. We want our residents and fellows to have the opportunity for more in-depth experiences related to quality, safety, technology and other operational initiatives,” Freese-Decker wrote last month in a letter to current medical residents and fellows.


Under the move, Spectrum Health would employ its medical residents, not GRMEP. Sponsoring its own residents would enable Spectrum Health to craft programs in medical specialties such as cardiology and pediatrics, create new fellowships and address talent shortages.

“There are clearly many opportunities to grow to ensure we have a physician community that takes care of West Michigan,” Freese-Decker said.

Spectrum Health has worked for three years to secure changes and is “deeply respectful to what’s been accomplished here” with GRMEP, but “we also see, as we look down the road, there’s a gap and we want to be able to step in and fill it,” said Dr. Seth Wolk, president of the Spectrum Health Medical Group.

Executives at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s have resisted, saying the change Spectrum Health wants would benefit Spectrum at its expense.

“This model, while somewhat unique, really fits this community,” Mercy Health Saint Mary’s President Bill Manns said of GRMEP. “This community is one that comes together to collaborate. Partnership is important, and for one partner to pull out for really no other reason than strategy and branding really doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Spectrum Health, however, wants to continue using GRMEP, Freese-Decker said. Each health system can sponsor its own programs and employ residents, and then use GRMEP for educational administrative support for residencies and fellowships while continuing clinical rotations at each other’s health systems, she said.

“I’d prefer to have a collaborative relationship with them,” Freese-Decker said.

Wolk believes the concerns of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s are readily addressed with new agreements that assure medical residents serve rotations at both health systems, even if they each operate their own programs.

“There are ways to get people past the fear,” he said.


Mercy Health Saint Mary’s has repeatedly rejected the changes Spectrum Health wants. In response to Spectrum Health’s application, Saint Mary’s now plans to apply to the ACGME to sponsor its own medical residency program and has been in early discussions with potential partners. One of them is sister health system, Mercy Health Muskegon, which also is owned by Trinity Health.

“There are many options on the table,” Baumgartner said.

GRMEP was created to share programs that mutually benefit both health systems, he said.

Changes Spectrum Health has sought for GRMEP would only “further the strategic objectives of Spectrum, rather than the previous objective of a non-competitive program that enhanced the community,” Baumgartner said. The agreement 15 years ago was that “we were not going to compete around medical education. That was going to be done in a collaborative way,” he said.

“That was an agreement that allowed for a successful 15 years and that trust has been breached by Spectrum’s approach,” Baumgartner said. “While they’re correct in saying that things have changed, the thing that has changed most strikingly is that Spectrum Health has become increasingly concerned with dominating the health care market than it has been in the past.”

GRMEP over the years has repeatedly incorporated new residency specialties and fellowships and has grown the program to keep up with the times, he said.

With the two organizations at an impasse, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s hopes to negotiate an end to the partnership with as little disruption as possible to current medical residents, said Baumgartner, who worries the situation could hurt Grand Rapids’ reputation as a destination for graduate medical education.

“When you have change of this magnitude, that does create a bit of a negative buzz out there,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been changed from its original form to note that GRMEP places hundreds of medical students annually from around the country, not just from MSU and GVSU. 

Read 3304 times Last modified on Monday, 12 October 2015 12:39

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