GRAND RAPIDS — A new agreement for collaboration formalizes ties and sets the foundation for Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and Spectrum Health to work closer together.
Under the “forum for hospital collaboration,” Mary Free Bed and Spectrum Health plan to focus initially on coordinating pediatric research and tracking outcomes for patients. The two organizations also will team up to find ways to refine the process for coordinating intensive rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed and Spectrum Health’s 15 hospitals.
“I believe partnership is key for us, in health care especially,” said Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker. “So it’s a forum for us to get together to actually work on some things that we need to do better for the communities and the people that we serve.
“This was both of us saying ‘what if?’ and ‘what could we do better?’”
The agreement with Mary Free Bed is similar to a deal Spectrum Health signed in 2014 with Holland Hospital to bring medical operations and doctors in both markets closer in an attempt to improve care coordination and continuity for patients, many of whom get referred back and forth between various providers, from primary care to sub-specialists. That deal led Spectrum Health and Holland Hospital to form the joint venture Health Pointe Inc., which developed a $50 million medical campus in Grand Haven that opened last spring.
Spectrum Health and Mary Free Bed will now meet regularly to work on better coordinating pediatric and rehab services. From there, the two groups will look at where else they can collaborate.
“This is a great first step. Coming out and talking about this collaboration will propel things for pediatrics, (and) it will propel further conversations we have throughout the organization,” Freese Decker said. “It’s a great starting point. I think it could go farther.”
How much farther and into what areas remain unknowns for now.
Spectrum Health and Mary Free Bed established a steering committee that will look at other areas to collaborate and “to continue to put meat on these bones,” Mary Free Bed CEO Kent Riddle said.
“We have a number of things in front of us that we’re going to assess,” Riddle said. “There are a number of potential items on the menu to work through.”
One future possibility is for Spectrum Health to join the statewide Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Network.
Lakeland Health, which Spectrum Health acquired in a deal that closed Oct. 1 and renamed Spectrum Health Lakeland, has been a member of the Mary Free Bed network since 2015.
“We are looking at what that means and what we do. We currently have our own adult acute inpatient rehab unit, but I think there’s so much collaboration we can do,” Freese Decker said.
For now, the agreement brings together two leaders in their fields to work more collaboratively to improve access to care for each of their patients, Riddle said. Spectrum Health and Mary Free Bed “are on the same page here trying to do the same thing,” he said.
“Regardless of whose system the patient may be in at the time, or whose hospital they’re associated with or who their physicians are, it’s more important to get them to the best care,” Riddle said. “It’s making sure that Mary Free Bed’s patients get access to the kind of things that Spectrum can do that they’re the best at, and helps open the doors for Spectrum patients to get access to the best rehabilitation possible.”
Riddle credits Freese Decker, who became CEO at Spectrum Health on Sept. 1, with “opening the door” to increased collaboration. The agreement represents “an inflection point to the relationship,” said Riddle, who was board chair early this decade when the two organizations talked about Mary Free Bed becoming part of Spectrum Health.
Those discussions ended in late 2010 without an agreement, and Mary Free Bed later formed the statewide care network that today consists of 35 hospitals across Michigan. In the years since, there have been “some rough times” in the relationship between the two health care providers, mostly over patient referrals.
“That’s all changed now. That’s been better for a few years,” Riddle said. “Now we’ve come together to say, ‘Hey, there’s a recognition that we’re dealing with the best in the world services here so it’s important that we work together as collaborators.’”