Greg Loomis doesn’t consider the clattering of construction equipment just outside his office to be a daily distraction, but rather the future of health care in Muskegon County taking shape. The new patient tower rising on the other side of the window in what once was a parking lot is part of a $271 million expansion and renovation that will consolidate inpatient care for Mercy Health Muskegon at the Sherman Boulevard campus. At the end of June as he prepared to retire as president of Mercy Health Muskegon after 38 years in a variety of leadership positions, Loomis talked to MiBiz about the project and the state of health care in America.
How does the project position the health system for the future?
It makes everything stronger because it drives waste out of the system, which then helps us invest in ambulatory settings, in a clinical integrated network and in our community-benefit ministry, which is the Muskegon Health Project. So it positions us to be able to move health care in the direction that it needs to take.
How do you view the competitive landscape in Muskegon County after Spectrum Health’s acquisition of some physician practices and its development of a new care campus in North Muskegon?
It was something certainly we didn’t have before, but we’re not new to competition. We used to be four hospitals at one time in Muskegon. We’re no stranger to competition. It was fierce for a long time between the Hackley system and the Mercy system, so we understand that competition is kind of a two-edged sword. It keeps you very sharp because you have to be, but it can be wasteful if it’s building services that already exist. They don’t have a large presence in Muskegon, and I don’t know how large they’ll grow. We accept them as a part of the competitive landscape.
What’s needed most right now in the Muskegon health care market?
Access to primary care continues to be a top priority for us and making sure people have access to a primary care provider when they need it. We still in Muskegon over utilize emergency rooms more than a bit. We need to make sure people are accessing the right setting.
Looking at the broader perspective as Congress considers repealing the Affordable Care Act, what’s missing from the health care debate in America?
We’re not focused on the people that are being served. This organization, that is our focus. All of this talk about subsidies or expanding Medicaid, it’s very complicated, but at the end of the day what’s missing is how are we treating the people that are being served. The building blocks are there, but I think there are too many competing interests.
If people in Washington asked for your advice, what would you tell them?
You have to figure out how you continue to serve those that have benefitted from the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. You have to figure out how those people are going to be cared for and you’re not going to do it with tax credits or whatever. That’s not what’s going to serve that population. Figure that out. Don’t abandon those people.
What makes you feel the most optimistic about health care?
The shift to rewards based on the value you’re providing. That’s a bit of a rocky road getting there from a fee-for-service world to being paid for value. As I look at the long term, that will drive the appropriate level of health care.
What frustrates you the most?
That we can’t do this faster (and) that it’s tremendously disruptive because you’re in two worlds as you’re trying to get to that future. We have really great health care in this country. We have wonderful medical staffs and wonderful colleagues serving patients. We have people that are in it for the right reasons, but the system doesn’t always yet reward doing the right thing. What frustrates me is getting from here to there is going to take so long.
There’s a lot of noise outside your office from the construction. How do you get through the day?
I’ve kind of gotten used to it, like anything else. That’s music to me. I remember when we first started this project (late last summer), I would go visit my friends over at Saint Mary’s and they were building their OR, and I would go, ‘Man, I can’t wait until we have construction zones and I’m inconvenienced and have to walk around piles of dirt and listen to noise.’ This is all good news for me. I walk a long ways from my car to my office these days, and I love it because I know why I’m doing it.
Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.