MUSKEGON — Mercy Health aims to elevate its cardiac care through new partnership with the University of Michigan’s health system.
Under the professional services agreement with Michigan Medicine, the recently renamed Ann Arbor-based health system, two cardiothoracic surgeons at Mercy Health Muskegon joined the faculty of the U-M Medical School. The two surgeons, Dr. Richard Downey and Dr. Nabeel El-amir, will continue to work full time at Mercy Health Muskegon.
Mercy Health’s open-heart program “has been really a hallmark of our service for decades, and it really was the thing that created around Mercy Health just a broad array of specialty services,” said Regional President Roger Spoelman.
The agreement with Michigan Medicine represents “the next iteration in the specialty services that we’re offering throughout West Michigan,” Spoelman said.
The arrangement provides Mercy Health surgeons with access to best practices, protocols and case consultations with their colleagues at Michigan Medicine’s Department of Cardiac Surgery. Mercy Health also gains access to U-M research and clinical trials in cardiac care and an increased ability to keep up with medical advances and new technologies.
Dr. Remington Sprague, chief medical officer at Mercy Health Muskegon, specifically cited coming changes in heart valve replace surgery to a less-invasive procedure compared to open-heart surgery.
“(Mercy’s heart surgeons) are connected not just to an isolated community hospital, but one that is partnering with a world-renowned medical center in Ann Arbor,” Sprague said. “The people in our community and our market area will have the advantage of the highest-grade technologies, (and) the highest-grade services available in the state.”
Downey was employed by Mercy Health and El-amir joined in September 2015, months after Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health Medical Group acquired West Michigan Cardiovascular Surgeons that performed heart procedures in Muskegon.
Rather than have a Spectrum Health-owned group performing heart procedures in Muskegon, Mercy Health decided to recruit and employ its own surgeons.
Mercy Health Muskegon is one of two health systems in the region to perform open-heart surgery, along with Spectrum Health in downtown Grand Rapids.
“We weren’t really comfortable having one of our signature programs managed by physicians employed by a major competitor in the region,” Sprague said.
Wanting to build the heart program in Muskegon, Mercy Health sought out the partnership with Michigan Medicine, where Downey and El-amir already had established relationships with peers.
“Collaborating with Mercy Health allows us to bring Mercy Health patients a team of doctors and researchers who continue to make significant advances in cardiovascular surgery,” said Dr. Richard Prager, a professor of cardiac surgery and a director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center at Michigan Medicine.
Spoelman notes that after bringing cardiac surgeons in-house, Mercy Health Muskegon is “keeping far more people in the community” and referring them elsewhere less often.
“Now with our relationship with the University of Michigan, we expect that’s going to grow even more,” Spoelman said.
Mercy Health Muskegon performed more than 350 heart procedures last year. Statistics from the state Department of Health & Human Services show the health system performed 298 adult open-heart surgeries in 2015, which compares to 1,183 at Spectrum Health’s Butterworth Hospital.
The new arrangement could potentially lead to further collaboration between Mercy Health and Michigan Medicine, which in January acquired Metro Health in Wyoming, south of Grand Rapids. Mercy Health and Michigan Medicine already collaborate on an oncology service at Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.
“It does open the door,” Spoelman said.
When Michigan Medicine signed the deal with Metro Health last fall, an administrator told MiBiz that it wanted to branch out across Michigan as the health care industry adapts to changes that have been driving consolidation.
“We get patients from all around the state and it’s my belief that we will need to have a statewide system of care,” David Spahlinger, vice dean for clinical affairs at the U-M Medical School and president of the U-M clinical enterprise, said in October. “Over time, the health care market will continue to consolidate. I believe probably in 10 years there will be maybe four systems in the state of Michigan and I think that we will need to be one of those systems to provide care throughout the state.”
The arrangement with Michigan Medicine “can’t but help” Mercy Health Muskegon recruit additional cardiothoracic surgeons, Sprague said.
U-M Medical School residents and fellows may start doing rotations in Muskegon, “and that’s one of the best ways to recruit new talent to the area,” Spoelman said.