Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital goes into 2019 with a new partner after signing a collaboration agreement in November with Spectrum Health to work together on research and coordinating patient care. The Grand Rapids rehabilitation hospital also formalized a research partnership with the University of Michigan Health System, and toward year’s end acquired the in-home skilled nursing services unit from Sunset Retirement Communities and Services. Looking ahead to 2019, President and CEO Kent Riddle sees a continuation of the high growth that Mary Free Bed has experienced in recent years since forming a statewide care network.
What are your top priorities for 2019?
We have more of everything. More patients will be served, more employees will be employed, more joint ventures, more network affiliates, and more programs. It’s really more and more and more. We’re on an acceleration curve that’s becoming more like hockey-stick kind of growth now. We’ve grown a lot over the years and we’re 300 percent bigger than seven years ago, but the acceleration of that is faster now than at any time in our history, but it’s more vertical. This year, we served 20 percent more patients than we did the year before. You think it would flatten out after seven years but it didn’t. We had more growth at a faster rate.
What can we expect to see in the coming year from the new agreement with Spectrum Health?
Hopefully some joint clinical programs that we’d like to start together. There’s already discussion about that and more joint research around kids. There’s a lot of opportunity in our world of rehabilitation where we can provide a more specialized service to Spectrum patients in their whole service area, which includes all of their hospitals.
What’s one thing you would like to see Gov.-elect Whitmer work on regarding Michigan’s health care industry in 2019?
I would like to see the whole no-fault (auto insurance) question be settled. I’d like it obviously to be more similar to what the taxpayers have voted for over the years than what some insurance companies and others would like it to become, but I do think it needs to be settled. I hope that she is a strong advocate for making sure that we don’t totally disrupt our home-grown system in the state.
What do you mean by that?
As a state, we don’t have many for-profit hospitals, so all of us that are not-for-profit hospitals that make up most of the state, we started from scratch here in the state and serve pretty much everybody. The balance of reimbursement in everything is such that major disruption in no-fault would grossly disrupt the number of patients that would have to go on the state Medicaid rolls.
What health care topics do you think will get more attention in 2019?
There’s no question that opioid use has got to fall. Our opinion is that starts as over-prescription then becomes an addiction, and then becomes a street drug, and that’s a real problem in society. In Michigan we’re pretty obese and obesity is a huge epidemic and a huge problem today and in the future. Then mental health.
What do you think led to the opioid crisis getting to where it is today?
We have a society in America that has really gravitated to over-drugging and over-utilization of intervention to fix the problem instead of trying to get to the root cause. In rehab, we have a medical philosophy which is really more about getting to the root cause and fixing it first with either physical therapy or occupational therapy, psychology or medical (care). We wean more patients off drugs than give them drugs, and so our philosophy in a value-based world is really important in health care.
What’s a headwind for you going into next year?
Educating the rest of health care that there are really better, lower-cost and better-outcome solutions to chronic conditions. Mary Free Bed’s in a position to make that happen.
What are the tailwinds?
Certainly momentum, and then we also have a number of hospital systems we’re working with, some are current network members and also new ones we’re really close to signing agreements with. That’s going to be an accelerating curve. We’re going to be in a lot more cities next year with outpatient programs and some with inpatient.
What’s one prediction you have for 2019?
By the end of 2019, Mary Free Bed will be serving more patients than any nonprofit rehabilitation hospital in the world. We will have come from 39th in the country eight years ago to number one in terms of the number of patients served in our entire system. It’s a 50-50 proposition that it’ll happen in 2019.
Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.