GRAND RAPIDS — Acquiring Lakeland Health solidly positions Spectrum Health in a new market in Southwest Michigan.
As executives now work to integrate the two health systems, Spectrum Health remains open to further “possibilities” to drive growth and expand geographically, said President and CEO Tina Freese Decker.
“There are always opportunities. We are always willing to talk to people,” Freese Decker told MiBiz, noting the deal with Lakeland started with “a conversation about what could be” after the two institutions for years collaborated in a number of areas.
The St. Joseph-based Lakeland Health was the latest acquisition for the Grand Rapids-based health system, which over several years has grown through a series of acquisitions from three to now 15 hospitals, including in Greenville, Ludington, Fremont, Zeeland and Hastings.
Under the latest deal, which closed Oct. 1, Lakeland became a division of Spectrum Health. The renamed Spectrum Health Lakeland continues to have a local board of directors that oversees operations, capital investments and philanthropy.
After closing the transaction less than three months after signing a letter of intent in July, executives are now focused on combining Lakeland’s business and clinical operations into Spectrum Health.
“Now some of the hard work comes. We have integration and making sure we achieve our value proposition for the communities that we’re serving and being an integrated health system together with Lakeland,” Freese Decker said.
One step toward that end goal came with the appointment of Dr. Loren Hamel to the additional role of chief clinical transformation officer. Hamel also continues as CEO of Spectrum Health Lakeland.
The new corporate-level position will focus from a clinical perspective on “how do we transform our health system. There are so many things we could do to enhance the health and well-being of the people we’re seeing every day,” Freese Decker said.
“What Loren’s job will be is to do that internally, within the delivery system, as well as connect to the health plan (Priority Health) and to think broadly about how do we transform the care that is provided and delivered,” she said. “That immediately brings him and Lakeland into our team and coordinating several key areas throughout the system to ensure we have that focus of how do we become integrated.”
An immediate focus from the merger is building on existing, long-standing connections for pediatric and specialty care at Lakeland and sharing best practices across the system.
Becoming part of a much-larger health system gives Lakeland greater access to a deep pool of clinical expertise for care, as well as helps in adopting best practices and tackling issues affecting the health care industry.
“It brings a much broader talent pool around the table when we’re discussing better health and better health care and how to make that more affordable,” Hamel said. “More talent around the table is a valuable asset for a small-ish health system.”
Spectrum Health and Lakeland have a “long and and robust history of sharing and learning from each other,” he said. “That work will continue at a more rapid and deliberate pace.”
An immediate benefit is Spectrum Health’s MedNow telehealth service for virtual primary care visits and specialty consultations. Through Lakeland, Spectrum Health now has base of physicians in Southwest Michigan who can refer patients to the telehealth service.
If Lakeland were to offer a telehealth service on its own, it would cost an estimated $500,000 annually to contract with a third-party vendor, Hamel said.
“Doing that in an integrated, in-the-family way is just a huge advantage to us,” Hamel said.