A question of location

Complicated history, confusion continue to mark College of Human Medicine expansion in Grand Rapids


Editor’s note: This is part one of an ongoing series about the College of Human Medicine’s presence in Grand Rapids.

Jim Potchen loves Grand Rapids.

It’s the city he grew up in and his family’s home.

As a young doctor, he was an intern with Spectrum Health, a major health care system and research institute in Grand Rapids.

Jim Potchen loves MSU.

He became the chairman of the MSU Department of Radiology when it had not so much as an X-ray machine.

Last year, Potchen became aware the successor he handpicked for the department — which is housed on MSU’s campus — was going to receive an offer to move to the MSU College of Human Medicine’s Grand Rapids campus at the Secchia Center, which opened in fall 2010. Potchen feared that, without him, the department in East Lansing would crumble.

In January 2011, Potchen ended his 35 years at MSU, stepping down so his successor could become chair and the department could be kept where Potchen feels it belongs — in East Lansing.

Potchen is one of a number of MSU faculty and Greater Lansing leaders who have expressed concern about the College of Human Medicine, or CHM’s, presence in East Lansing as the Grand Rapids campus continues to expand.

Although university officials have promised to continue the CHM’s presence where it began, there have been questions relating to the balance of power and resources between the two campuses.

Local officials and former faculty members worry a move could eventually take valuable revenue and potential job opportunities from the East Lansing area.

“(Grand Rapids) is a wonderful town; it’s a great place to be,” Potchen said.

“But (the expansion) is detrimental for the community of Lansing.”

Medical mile
Grand Rapids’ “medical mile” includes several multimillion dollar medical facilities.

But in 2004, one thing was missing. A medical school. Or, a “powerful economic engine,” as described by a Deloitte Consulting LLP report from Grand Action, a not-for-profit organization with the goal of improving downtown buildings in the Grand Rapids area.

Instead of starting a medical school, which would cost about $1 billion, the CHM could go to Grand Rapids ­— a move that had been in discussion for several years prior to 2004, according to the report.

With the CHM, Grand Rapids would bring hundreds of students and the thousands of dollars they’d spend living in the area.

It would bring federal research dollars.

It also would diversify clinical services, attracting more outpatients to the area, according to the report

In the end, the report estimated that Kent County — the county in which Grand Rapids is located — and nearby Ottawa County would see a $1.5 billion increase in sales and more than 2,800 jobs created in the first 10 years after the move.

For MSU, the expansion gives the university a way to increase its influence statewide, CHM Dean Marsha Rappley said.

“The vibrant health and science community of Grand Rapids came together and committed to an expansive vision for our college, including new private funding resources of more than $150 million,” Rappley said in an email.

“This allowed an opportunity for MSU to expand its footprint significantly in Michigan.”

But the Grand Rapids campus is more than an expansion, said Matt Van Vranken, executive vice president of Spectrum Health Delivery System.

“(We) pledged $85 million to support the College of Human Medicine moving their focus from East Lansing (and) have (Grand Rapids) be the primary site for the College of Human Medicine,” Van Vranken said.

Moving or expanding?
The CHM provides the community with important medical care, and its value to the East Lansing community, combined with the College of Osteopathic Medicine, was $94 million, according to a 2003 report from the Capital Area Michigan Works! State Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, East Lansing’s former mayor, said he was surprised when then-MSU President M. Peter McPherson announced the college was moving in 2004.

“(The plan) had been put together by MSU without any consultation of local … government or any regional leaders,” Meadows said.

“McPherson had created a plan that was not an expansion — it was an elimination of the school.”
The plan was replaced in 2005 under MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, and the new plan provided for an expansion rather than a move.

““There wasn’t much opposition”:http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2005/12/moving_matters to an expansion of a school,” Meadows said.

Rappley said the school’s expansion would leave many Greater Lansing community functions intact.
“Everyone is concerned that resources will be taken away from the community,” Rappley said.

“We’re not moving practices; we’re not moving physicians to Grand Rapids. We are not dismantling departments in Grand Rapids. We are building here.”

But Potchen said the university’s actions contradict their statements.

Chairs of departments are being removed and positions have shifted to Grand Rapids. In the past month, two top administrators involved with the CHM — the associate provost for human health affairs and the executive dean for the East Lansing College of Human Medicine — were told their contracts would not be renewed. 

“I want what we built in Lansing to be preserved,” Potchen said.

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