KALAMAZOO — Peter Bergmann began his tenure as president at Ascension Borgess three months ago with a host of issues on his plate to manage.
Among them is finalizing the proposed acquisition of 25-bed Allegan General Hospital and integrating it into the Kalamazoo-based regional health system, which includes hospitals in Kalamazoo, Dowagiac and Plainwell, as well as outpatient centers and physician offices.
Ascension Borgess and Allegan General currently are engaged in the due diligence process in the deal, which is set to close this summer and would extend the Borgess brand further across Southwest Michigan. The deal also comes as Ascension Borgess looks to operate more regionally across the market with the 347-bed Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo at the center for specialized care.
That regional approach will help with the coordination and continuity of care between hospitals and care facilities as patients are referred and move through the system, said Bergmann, who became president at Ascension Borgess on Feb. 11.
“We are a regional presence and we have to act that way,” Bergmann told MiBiz. “Our real target right now is taking a look at the region and making sure that health care is strong in all of the communities that we serve. Our goal is if we can provide care in the community, we want to keep that care in the community and only if there is a need for subspecialized care, then it would come into Kalamazoo.
“The last thing we want is someone sick traveling a greater distance for care. We want to provide those services in those communities. Only when those patients need a more specialized level of care would they need to leave Allegan County.”
Bergmann described Allegan General as having a “beautiful facility,” but noted the organization is operating in an environment that makes it “tougher for smaller hospitals to thrive financially.”
“It’s making a lot of sense for these hospitals to partner with larger systems for the ability to be financially viable, to have the services that are needed and expected in these smaller communities,” he said. “Allegan fit that perfectly.”
Ascension Borgess can support Allegan General with access to capital and physicians, both of which are hard for a small hospital to attract, he said.
“They’re still able to provide care in Allegan, but then we’ll also give them access to resources, from physicians to capital that they may not have had access to previously,” Bergmann said. “If they have needs in terms of equipment that their caregivers need, we’ll be able to invest in that facility.”
Ascension Borgess also includes the 25-bed Borgess Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac and the 43-bed Borgess-Pipp Hospital in Plainwell.
Time of transition
Bergmann came to Kalamazoo from Parma Medical Center, a part of the University Hospitals system in Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as president for nearly two years. Bergmann previously served within the Edmundson, Mo.-based Ascension system for 11 years as president of Sisters of Charity Hospital and St. Joseph Campus, a two-campus hospital in Buffalo, N.Y.
He sought the president’s position at Ascension Borgess because he wanted to return to Ascension, a Catholic health system that consists of 151 hospitals and more than 50 senior living facilities in 21 states and the District of Columbia, including 15 hospitals in Michigan.
Bergmann views Kalamazoo as a community enjoying an economic resurgence.
“There’s a vibrancy in the community, and I wanted to be a part of that,” said Bergmann, whose top priority since February has been building a senior leadership team “that’s going to carry this hospital well into the future.”
“We want to make sure that we build a sense of direction within the hospital and continue down the path that was started many months ago of making sure that we have the tools that our physicians need and our providers need,” he said. “For the future of medicine and medical care in Kalamazoo, we need to make sure we have those tools in the hands of our providers.”
Bergmann’s arrival coincides not only with the proposed Allegan General acquisition but also other “transitional issues” for Ascension Borgess that were in motion well before his arrival and that are “coming to resolution.” They include:
- Filling the void created next year when Portage Physicians P.C., a large group of primary care physicians with 30 doctors and 32 physician assistants and nurse practitioners, moves from practicing at Kalamazoo-area Ascension Borgess ProMed offices and affiliates with rival Bronson Healthcare.
- Building out an ongoing $37.2 million project to replace 15 operating rooms at Borgess Medical Center that’s expected to be completed in May 2020. In the last 18 months, Borgess has invested about $68 million in upgrades, including replacing cardiac catheterization labs and robotic surgery, Bergmann said. That’s an investment level he found “a surprise, and a very pleasant surprise, because there is investment going into the hospital and the community and into our region.”
- Adapting to a looming change at West Michigan Cancer Center, a partnership with Bronson Healthcare that decided a year ago to transition outpatient medical oncology and infusion services to each hospital.
Ascension Borgess aims to recruit care providers to staff existing offices now occupied by Portage Physicians, Bergmann said. Ascension Borgess was able to recruit 52 providers in 2018 and expects to bring on more than 60 new physicians in 2019, Bergmann said.
“There is an ebb and flow of providers in and out of a market, so we’ll look to bring in new providers into the Kalamazoo community,” he said. “Those practices will continue as they were. We will recruit physicians and put physicians in those offices.”
Portage Physicians decided prior to Bergmann’s arrival to change its affiliation to Bronson as of July 2020.
Bergmann remains confident that Ascension Borgess will find replacements. However, the situation reinforces the need to constantly reach out to and maintain good communications with physicians in the market, he added.
“We want to make sure we are always aware of our physicians’ needs,” he said. “That should be a constant process, making sure that we are understanding what the needs are of our physicians and making sure that they have the resources and the structure in place where they can thrive.”
In announcing Bergmann’s appointment in January, Ascension Michigan COO Jean Meyer specifically noted that he was “a collaborative leader and an authentic communicator, who will immediately create strong connections with our Ascension Borgess associates and providers.”
In cancer care, Ascension Borgess continues to evaluate how to accommodate the planned changes at the West Michigan Cancer Center.
Bronson Healthcare, in response to the cancer center’s decision, recently announced plans for a $60 million outpatient cancer pavilion at its downtown campus. The five-story, 85,000-square-foot office structure will rise at Vine Street and John Street, across from the Medical Office Pavilion on Bronson’s South Campus. Construction could begin this spring with occupancy targeted for early 2021.
Ascension Borgess remains undecided whether it needs to add capacity for outpatient cancer treatment at its Kalamazoo hospital.
“We are committed to providing great cancer care for the community and that’s going to be our focus moving forward,” he said. “The setting in which that care occurs, we’re still taking a look at.”