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University of Michigan Health-West is preparing to start open-heart surgeries this fall, creating more competition in the Grand Rapids-area market. University of Michigan Health-West is preparing to start open-heart surgeries this fall, creating more competition in the Grand Rapids-area market. COURTESY Photo

University of Michigan Health-West set to launch open-heart surgery this fall

BY Sunday, April 10, 2022 06:45pm

University of Michigan Health-West remains on track to perform its first open-heart surgery by late fall.

A year after securing state approval to launch a competing open-heart surgery program in Grand Rapids, the health system has focused on hiring medical staff and completing work on a cardiovascular operating room for heart procedures that will include coronary artery bypass grafting and heart valve repairs and replacements.

The planning to initiate heart surgery — and for a cardiac care joint venture that University of Michigan Health-West formed with Mercy Health and Michigan Medicine — continued during the past year even amid COVID-19 case surges.

“We’re making really good progress,” University of Michigan Health-West President and CEO Peter Hahn said. “We’re absolutely on time.”

University of Michigan Health-West’s program would create new competition for open-heart surgery in the Grand Rapids-area health care market, where Spectrum Health has been the lone provider for two decades and runs the second-largest program in the state behind University of Michigan Health in Ann Arbor. The nearest competitors are Mercy Health Muskegon, Sparrow Health System and McLaren Health Care in Lansing, Ascension Borgess and Bronson Healthcare in Kalamazoo, and Spectrum Health Lakeland in Berrien County.

Formerly known as Metro Health until a rebranding last fall, University of Michigan Health-West expects to perform up to 500 open-heart surgeries annually within five years. The health system plans to initially take a “very careful and very conservative” approach in the first year with lower-risk cases “and then let things really roll after that,” Hahn said. 

University of Michigan Health-West initially will transfer higher-risk heart patients to Mercy Health Muskegon or Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, both of which are part of the regional cardiovascular care network set up a year ago.

“We want to make sure the program starts out right. A lot of that has to do with patient selection. We’re intentionally going to be conservative in the initial few months, really making sure that quality and patient safety are utmost,” Hahn said. “It’s going to definitely exponentially increase after the first year. The first year, though, we’re really not looking at numbers as much as just making sure that we’re ensuring the highest quality.”

University of Michigan Health-West secured state certificate-of-need approval in March 2021 to perform open-heart surgery. The health system soon afterward formed the Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan, a joint venture with Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center in Ann Arbor; Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids; and Mercy Health Muskegon, which has a longstanding open-heart program.

The Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan allows the health systems to share clinical expertise and medical staff as “one network, one program, one team,” Hahn said. Heart patients who need surgery also will have the option of going to University of Michigan Health-West or Mercy Health Muskegon, or to Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor for a complex case.

The Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan’s goal is for the partnering hospitals to offer the same level of heart care, no matter where a heart patient goes.

“We want it to be so seamless that the service you’re going to get with the Cardiovascular Network is going to be very similar,” Mercy Health Muskegon President Gary Allore said. “For services that are appropriate to stay near their community, they’re going to stay near their community. That’s our goal: To continue to grow and to keep people as close as we can to the community they’re from.”

Building a prestigious program

University of Michigan Health-West seeks to hire two cardiovascular surgeons for the open-heart program. Despite a national shortage of these experts, the health system has attracted what Hahn calls “stellar candidates.”

Part of the attraction is for cardiovascular surgeons to become associated with University of Michigan Health and Michigan Medicine — which are known for cardiac care — as well as to develop and advance a new open-heart program from the ground up.

“That’s the kind of surgeons we’re looking for: Program builders who are ambitious to not just join another program but to build something with the prestige a Michigan Medicine program out here would bring,” Hahn said. “Those opportunities are few and far between nationally.”

As University of Michigan Health-West prepares to launch open-heart surgery, part of the long-term planning is to develop a separate facility at its Wyoming hospital campus to perform heart procedures through the Cardiovascular Network of West Michigan.

The development of a new cardiovascular care facility “is just a matter of timing (and) funding,” Hahn said. Developing a patient tower is probably five to 10 years away, although “those are things we’re actually working through now to determine when we could potentially start that,” he said.

“That’s absolutely going to be a part of the future — it’s just a matter of when it actually takes off,” Hahn said.

Statewide, 34 hospitals are licensed to perform open-heart surgery. University of Michigan Health in Ann Arbor led the state with 1,536 procedures in 2020, according to the latest data available from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Spectrum Health, which declined to comment on University of Michigan Health-West’s new program, was second at 1,099 procedures.

Mercy Health Muskegon, which has had a heart care partnership with Michigan Medicine since 2017, performed 259 open-heart procedures in 2020, according to state data. Mercy Health Muskegon through the partnership has expanded its heart surgery program and plans to hire a third cardiovascular surgeon in late summer or early fall, Allore said. 

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