MGH officials: Prognosis good after 6 months

MARQUETTE – Marquette General Hospital officials said a six-month check-up on developments since the September acquisition of the facility by Duke LifePoint Healthcare has produced a favorable outcome.

From investments totaling almost $200 million to gains in physician recruitment, substantial construction plans and quality care improvements, hospital officials said “significant progress” has been made.

“At this point, six months is a honeymoon,” said Marquette General CEO Gary Muller. “And in the six months you expect certain things; our expectations were exceeded.”

A strategic planning process identified four categories to gauge progress including financial, physicians, facility and quality.

From the financial perspective, nearly $200 million has been spent so far by Duke LifePoint on Marquette General, with $95 million allocated for the hospital’s pension plan, $78 million for outstanding bonds and other obligations and $23 million for the hospital’s foundation.

Over the next decade, roughly $300 million more will be spent on facilities and equipment and another $50 million for physician recruitment.

Hospital officials expect to soon report a “significant community tax base increase” when figures are made available from local taxing units on the contributions made across the region from Marquette General holdings moving to investor-owned status, onto the property tax rolls.

“While the final amount Marquette General will pay to several municipalities in the Upper Peninsula in the form of taxes has not yet been determined, it is clear that virtually every aspect pertaining to quality of life in the region will be vastly improved,” Muller said.

Muller said the hospital has also begun paying sales taxes.

Marquette General has 357 medical providers on its staff: 195 employed by Marquette General and the rest private practice. Twenty providers have been hired since the acquisition, with $1.3 million spent on recruitment over the first four months.

The Duke LifePoint design team will be in town next week with a first draft master plan for facilities upgrades and construction, which will include a new cancer center, surgery center and office building.

“From there the time frame goes to final design for the next three months,” Muller said.

The two-month bidding process will begin in July.

“We’re talking fall to break ground,” Muller said.

Hospital officials are planning to have a detailed construction plan announcement in the next couple of months. The upgrades will range from cosmetic facelift to razing some structures and building others.

Upper Peninsula subcontractors will be used for the work. The Doctors Park development in Delta County used more than 90 percent U.P. labor, officials said.

Muller said no additional property acquisition is expected to complete the development. Almost $20 million in facility upgrades are expected this year.

Doctors will eventually be moved from the Upper Psula Medical Center to Marquette General, with the vacant offices used for other hospital purposes.

“We found the patients want to be close to their doctor, but also the doctors want to be close to the hospital and this community has never had that,” Muller said.

A top strategic priority for Marquette General is broadening the base of Superior Health Partners and enhancing the depth of its approach of having multiple U.P. hospitals affiliated with each other, combating patient outmigration from the region.

Helen Newberry Joy Hospital recently became the eighth Superior Health partner, with another hospital expected to be joining soon and discussions with a potential 10th partner scheduled for May.

In addition to new Superior Health Partners, the group is contracting with the Baptist Leadership Group of Pensacola, Fla., to improve customer service at all of the affiliated hospitals.

“They run a string of hospitals there, but they also are known as setting the gold standard for customer service in the health care business,” said Marquette General marketing director David Edwards. “Superior Health Partners is going to be working directly with them for the next two years.”

Edwards said the hope is the hospitals, once through the training, will be defining customer service for Michigan hospitals.

“It’s going to be bringing up levels of customer service almost looking like the hospitality business will,” Edwards said. “We’re not going to measure quality strictly by clinical outcome. That is the traditional way. Customer service will be factored in to the clinical outcome equation and that’s how quality will be determined in the future.”

Edwards said there are parallels between the health care customer model and the hospitality industry model. The Baptist Leadership Group began its work in Florida based on the Ritz-Carlton customer service model.

“Over the years, we as a society have taught patients to think of themselves as consumers, not just patients,” Edwards said. “So when we look at outmigration from the Upper Peninsula, we say, ‘How do we keep them here?’ We’re going to keep them here with medical, technical, clinical quality. We’re going to keep them here because we’re going to deliver the best service quality along with that.”

Baptist Leadership personnel will be in Superior Health Partners hospitals May 6 starting their assessments.

The strategic planning process defined some areas where Marquette General can improve. The hospital is able to compare its quality standards with Duke LifePoint’s other four facilities.

“I’d say we compare quite well overall, with opportunities (to improve) in areas that we pretty well recognized,” Muller said. “But Duke Lifepoint’s Hospitals generally are a step above anyway. So, especially with Duke, so when we compare well with them we’re doing pretty well.”

Areas identified in strategic planning that could be improved include better coordination and efficiencies in anesthesia, access to care and case management, process improvement, hospital-based services and physician engagement.

The goal is improving the “total patient experience.”

“When a patient comes in, their expectations are to be treated well and, you know, efficiently and less costly, but at this point, a lot of it depends on the investment in the technology, getting enough doctors, getting access to care and when you add all these up, the patient’s experience has got to be better because they can go through it quicker, easier, less costly,” Muller said. “And already in six months we’ve seen a movement in that direction let’s say.”

Several additional strategic priorities have been identified including creating a single destination for all cancer services; creating a comprehensive chemotherapy-infusion center; exploring the Duke Oncology Network to develop a consistent, cohesive brand; enhancing clinical development and education and research; and further implementing telehealth programs with the hospital’s outlying clinics.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.