GRAND HAVEN — Spectrum Health and its joint venture with Holland Hospital jumped full force into backing a ballot question in the lakeshore township where they’re developing a $55 million medical campus.
The Grand Rapids-based health system and HealthPointe Inc. committed more than $31,000 in cash and services to a ballot committee promoting a “yes” vote on a Grand Haven Township zoning ordinance enacted earlier this year.
Spectrum and HealthPointe have gotten involved in the issue even though the question appearing on the Nov. 8 Grand Haven Township ballot supposedly does not directly affect the project.
A consultant for the ballot committee said the intent was to clear up misinformation and clarify the issue, although fliers mailed to voters say a “yes” vote would “correct ambiguities in our zoning ordinance” and “confirm and clarify Grand Haven’s law to bring a brand new health care facility to town.”
“It was one of these things where it was best to do an educational and informational campaign,” said Sam Moore, a political consultant assisting the campaign.
“We don’t want the perception out there that if people vote ‘no’ the project’s not moving forward,” Moore said. “We feel the need to provide voters with accurate information so they are informed when they cast their ballots in the November general election.”
HealthPointe is under construction on a 12-acre site on the north end of Grand Haven Township. The 120,000-square-foot Health Pointe facility will house primary-care medical practices, specialty physicians, an urgent care center, laboratory services, medical imaging such as MRI and CT, and an outpatient surgical center.
As Grand Haven Township trustees went through a contentious process last winter and spring that led to zoning approval for the project, they decided simultaneously to amend parts of the local zoning ordinance on height restrictions and to allow medical uses in commercial zones. Residents who opposed the HealthPointe development also objected to the new zoning ordinance and petitioned to place it on the November ballot.
As well, opponents of the project mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge, claiming medical uses were not allowed in a commercially zoned area under the old ordinance that township trustees used to approve HealthPointe. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in August for a lack of legal standing by the plaintiffs.
Bob Brown, a township resident who organized a group that opposed both HealthPointe and the amended zoning ordinance, argues that Spectrum Health and HealthPointe seek to influence the election out of concerns about a subsequent legal challenge should voters revert to the prior ordinance.
“They’re afraid the building will stop,” Brown said.
The day after township trustees approved HealthPointe in March, and as residents collected petition signatures, two Spectrum Health employees — one of whom is director of operations at HealthPointe — filed papers with the Ottawa County Clerk’s office organizing a ballot committee, using their work addresses and email. They later filed an amended registration statement that uses their home addresses in Grand Rapids and Spring Lake and personal emails.
The Committee for Quality Healthcare Choices in recent weeks has sent four mailings of flyers to township residents and bought air time on three local radio stations. Local residents also report receiving phone calls on the ballot question.
The Committee for Quality Healthcare Choices is backed by a $20,000 cash contribution made May 10 by HealthPointe Inc., plus $11,485.08 in in-kind support from Spectrum Health through donated services, according to a July 25 financial statement filed with the Ottawa County Clerk. The financial statement also listed $13,851.50 in expenses for the committee through legal fees paid to Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.
Moore declined to say how much the Committee for Quality Healthcare Choices planned to spend on promoting a “yes” vote to uphold the township’s zoning ordinance. Pre-election financial statements by ballot committees are due to the county clerk Oct. 28.
Heath Pointe was also opposed by Grand Haven-based North Ottawa Community Health System amid worries that the project will take away market share and patient volumes for profitable medical services, threatening its viability.
North Ottawa has stayed out of the debate on the township’s ballot question. However, a spokesperson sharply criticized the campaign by Spectrum and HealthPointe to influence voters.
“It’s unfortunate that Spectrum Health was not transparent with the community. Like many who call this community home, we find it disappointing and insulting. The issue for our friends, family and neighbors who, like us, have been here for generations, has always been about a fair process and good local government,” said Jen VanSkiver, North Ottawa’s chief communications officer. “Pushing out multiple glossy mailers, radio ads and robo-calls to mislead people and influence a local vote is an odd way to build trust in any community. The tens of thousands of dollars they spent on this propaganda could have been much better spent on patient care.”