Care providers behind a new regional cancer treatment network hope the partnership raises the quality of the cancer care they provide.
Mercy Health and Metro Health-University of Michigan plan to integrate cancer care through the Cancer Network of West Michigan to treat patients at three locations in Grand Rapids and Muskegon. The Cancer Network of West Michigan combines cancer care at both health systems with Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine, the academic medical center for the University of Michigan.
Formed as a joint venture, the network allows for greater collaboration between Mercy Health, Metro Health and Michigan Medicine for treating cancer patients, accessing advanced treatments and trials, and conducting research.
“We’ve had very successful cancer programs individually in West Michigan, but as a collective new joint venture, we just feel like we’re going to be able to offer so much more together than we can do individually,” said Gary Allore, president of Mercy Health Muskegon.
“We have good programs, but by bringing it all together and coordinating care, we’ll have the scale of a program to really bring in better technology, better advancements and the most recent research and clinical trials,” Allore said. “We’ll have the capacity to do that as a network with the idea that cancer care will remain, in every way possible, close to home, depending on the cancer treatment.”
Dr. Hyung Tai Kim, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, considers the regional cancer network a “natural extension” of ongoing collaboration in a number of areas between Mercy Health Muskegon, Saint Mary’s and Metro Health-University of Michigan.
Their goal with the new network is to elevate the cancer care each provides by connecting with Michigan Medicine for access to expertise and highly specialized treatments.
“We hope to be able to offer additional services that we currently don’t so our friends and neighbors don’t have to leave the community anymore,” Kim said. “We also hope to be able to increase the quality of the care here.”
‘We had to do this’
The network will provide treatment at the Lacks Cancer Center at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, Mercy Health Muskegon’s Johnson Family Cancer Center, and Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming.
The three facilities combined treat more than 13,000 cancer patients annually and have 63 cancer specialists and subspecialists. Clinicians at each health system will provide the care with the support of Michigan Medicine’s Rogel Cancer Center in Ann Arbor.
The Cancer Network of West Michigan formed as cancer treatment becomes more complex and sub-specialized in the age of molecular medicine when “to really have the scale to offer patients in West Michigan really state-of-the-art cancer care, we felt we had to do this,” said Peter Hahn, the president and CEO of Metro Health.
By working together, the health systems also can provide greater continuity of care for the cancer patients they treat.
No matter which of the three locations patients visit for treatment, they’ll “get the same evidence-based work up, the same evidence-based treatment and follow up,” Hahn said.
“One of the problems with cancer care anywhere in the U.S. is there is a lot of variation. Depending on where patients go, they can be diagnosed and worked up differently. They may get different treatments,” he said. “One big measure of success for us would be to really have standardized, evidence-based work ups and treatments regardless of which site they go to.
“Through standardization, you’re trying to get everyone toward …. better.”
The idea for a combined regional center network between the health systems goes back several years and prior to Metro Health’s 2017 acquisition by University of Michigan Health System, Hahn said. With the Metro Heath and University of Michigan ties and the expertise of Michigan Medicine, now “you can build something truly special” in the region, he said.
The network could possibly lead to additional partnerships in the years ahead involving the University of Michigan, Hahn said. The health systems first want to ensure the new cancer network meets internal objectives before looking to do more partnerships, he said.
“I do think that this will be the first of, hopefully, many programs that come with U of M deeply involved,” he said. “That would be the hoped for result, that this is the first of many collaborations that could be developed, but we want to make sure we do this right. We want to make sure that this truly elevates care in West Michigan.”
‘Set the stage’
The University of Michigan Health System has clinical partnerships in other markets throughout the state with Trinity Health, the Livonia-based parent corporation of Mercy Health. They include a collaboration with Mercy Health Muskegon formed three years ago with Michigan Medicine for cardiac surgery.
That arrangement has enabled Mercy Health Muskegon to retain more patients who need heart surgery, rather than refer them elsewhere, and to expand into other heart procedures such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement, Allore said.
Mercy Health Saint Mary’s also collaborates with the University of Michigan on radiation oncology, Kim said.
“There are areas where we are already successfully working together. We’re just formalizing that we’re really going to figure out how we’re going to partner together to improve the scope and the quality of cancer care in West Michigan by taking the collaboration to the next level,” he said.
The clinical partnerships the University of Michigan has around the state, plus the three-year relationship that Metro Health has with the Ann Arbor health system, combine to make now the right time to proceed and collaborate on a regional cancer network, Hahn said.
“It’s a much more mature relationship now, and because U of M has done some great initiatives with Trinity in other parts of the state, that’s really set the stage for this to happen,” Hahn said