Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A question of leadership

Officials expect College of Human Medicine’s leadership to gradually move to Grand Rapids; faculty, patients question school’s focus

October 3, 2011

Misty Holley talks about her daughter, Dakota Brookens-Hillebrand and how they have adopted to living with her Down syndrome and other medical conditions. Brookens-Hillebrand has been taken care of by MSU Health Team doctors since she was born.

Photo by Josh Sidorowicz | The State News

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

To read the first part of the series, click here.

Misty Holley’s husband gave her a choice: She could keep her unborn child with Down syndrome, or she could keep him.

Eleven years ago Holley’s daughter, Dakota Brookens-Hillebrand, was born with blond hair, blue eyes and Down syndrome. In time, she would be diagnosed with sleep apnea, neurofibromatosis, acid reflux and would need heart surgery.

Holley’s husband left, and MSU’s College of Human Medicine came in.

Through the years, Dakota and her brothers Kristopher and Derrick’s physicians — all doctors with the MSU Health Team — have become another form of family.

Holley, a Fowlerville, Mich., resident, relies on her doctors — doctors she said she fears might not be around much longer.

In 2005, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon announced the College of Human Medicine, or CHM, would expand to Grand Rapids. One year ago, the Secchia Center opened in Grand Rapids and the expansion began.

University officials have pledged to have students and faculty at both campuses to expand the college’s services throughout Michigan, but the transition in leadership and lack of clarity about where key faculty will be located has caused concern for some, including Holley, about the future of the college in East Lansing.

“We need some kind of balance here to direct and lead us,” Holley said. “If (the leadership) is (in Grand Rapids) then we’re all over the place here. Who’s going to make it okay for us parents? Who’s going to make it okay?”
Where’s the chair?
Last fall, CHM Dean Marsha Rappley met with the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development to discuss the future of the department in East Lansing.

At the meeting, more than one faculty member came away understanding that, in addition to the current chair in East Lansing, there would be another chair in Grand Rapids.

On March 8, MSU’s pediatrics faculty received a letter from Rappley. It highlighted the multiple accomplishments of H. Dele Davies, the chair of the department.

Then the letter stated the department would have a new chair in Grand Rapids and Davies had been given notice he would no longer be chair after a new one was found. East Lansing would no longer have a chair for the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development. There would be one chair located in Grand Rapids, who would work closely with the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital of Spectrum Health and be hired externally. Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system based in Grand Rapids.

Rappley said she is unsure if she ever committed two chairs to pediatrics.

Davies himself was shocked to hear the announcement and concerned for what the change could mean for the faculty in his department. He is not sure what he did to warrant his pending removal and was not involved in discussions about moving the chair position to Grand Rapids.

“Normally there’s a reason for the change,” Davies said. 

The Department of Pediatrics and Human Development is the first department in the CHM to have the position of chair moved to Grand Rapids. Rappley announced in August that the Department of Surgery added a new chair in Grand Rapids in addition to the chair in East Lansing. But there will most likely be more movements to come, MSU Provost Kim Wilcox said.

“I would expect in the next couple of years all the chairs are going to be in Grand Rapids,” Wilcox said. “All the departments are going to have one chair.”

In reference to the chairs moving, Rappley said the college has no concrete plans.

“We don’t have a specific time line,” Rappley said, “We’re going to see how that evolves depending on what is best for the college.”

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Matt Van Vranken, vice president of Spectrum Health, said he expects the chairs to move and become a critical part of the CHM in Grand Rapids.

“If you’re going to have a robust medical academic center, these are the things that are important elements,” Van Vranken said.

The lack of such “important elements” in East Lansing has some faculty members concerned the departments here could suffer, said Jim Potchen, former chairman of the MSU Department of Radiology.

“The leadership of the faculty here has to be equivalent to what is in Grand Rapids,” Potchen said.

Seventy miles apart
As Michigan’s only land-grant university, MSU’s CHM has satellite campuses across the state including Flint, Kalamazoo, Marquette, Traverse City and Midland.

Grand Rapids is the largest. It’s the only other city aside from East Lansing where CHM’s first- and second-year students are taught. In 2005, it was decided the dean’s office would be in Grand Rapids, but no decision was made at that time about the location of the chairs.

In 2006, Mark DeLano, then an associate professor of radiology in Grand Rapids, began providing radiology services at a multi-specialty group in Grand Rapids contracted by the College of Human Medicine. He eventually decided to partner with Spectrum Health, but DeLano is still a faculty member with MSU. He works from Grand Rapids but is not considered an employee.

The same is true for many faculty in the CHM, both in East Lansing and Grand Rapids. Faculty who are associated with and not paid by the university are often clinical physicians eager to teach, Rappley said.

Other faculty employees spend a majority of their time teaching students and doing research for the CHM. Of all the CHM campuses, East Lansing has the most of this type of faculty with 453 employees, according to a document from MSU University Relations. Grand Rapids has 90 employees.

The numbers made Elna Saah, a doctor with MSU’s Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, question why the leadership is being moved to Grand Rapids.

“To us, it doesn’t make any sense,” Saah said. “You’re trying to coordinate and explain something to someone who is not in the location.”

But for Rappley, the pull of the community in Grand Rapids made the difference.

“It’s a hugely significant thing when the two major health care systems and research institutes step forward and contribute $150 million dollars,” Rappley said, adding that the people in Grand Rapids raised an addition $40 million for the CHM to have its focus there.

Saah said she came to MSU in 2005 seeking an academic background.

But seeing Davies removed as chair and the chair position moved to Grand Rapids sent her a message.

“It has left us faculty very confused, and we are unsure of what our future is going to be,” Saah said.
“Most of the young faculty are considering and looking at other options.”


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