What does the Spectrum-Beaumont merger mean for patients?

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Health care advocates say the pending merger of Spectrum Health and Beaumont Health is part of a pattern of combining hospitals and growing health care giants.

Spectrum, based in Grand Rapids, and Beaumont, based in Southfield, on Thursday announced their intent to merge by the end of the year.

It’s just one of several medical mergers to happen in the last 30 years. In 1996, Blodgett Hospital and Butterworth Hospital merged to form Spectrum Health. Throughout the years, Spectrum continued to acquire hospitals in Big Rapids, Fremont, Greenville and Zeeland, as well as integrating Lakeland Health.

In 2011, Mercy Health of Muskegon and Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids merged. In 2016, University of Michigan Health formed a partnership with Metro Health Hospital.

“Mergers have good and bad built into them. There’s always an assumption that bigger is better, which is a false assumption. Bigger isn’t better; better is better,” Lody Zwarensteyn said.

Zwarensteyn spent more than 40 years working for Alliance for Health, which describes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that helps policy makers and community members understand health policy and the root of the nation’s health care issues.

Zwarensteyn said the merger has several implications for the hospitals involved, including more access to funds and a bigger network of staff and technology.

“Among the things they do bring is connections to medical education of all kinds, whether it’s for therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nursing education and physician education. The ties to the medical school, say at Michigan State, strong ties here in West Michigan,” Zwarensteyn listed.

He also said a merger means the companies become more powerful.

“You can command prices from suppliers. You can, depending on your size, demand payments from payers. Can you imagine what will be the largest employer in the state telling the state what it should pay for Medicaid?” Zwarensteyn added.

On the flip side, he said, it’s likely there will be relatively few changes for patients. He said it could mean more access to specialized care.

“Now it’ll be easier if there are some services developed either here or in Southeast (Michigan) for the referral of patients back and forth,” he said.

Zwaresteyn says there are still multiple independent hospitals in the area but only time will tell how long they remain that way. He predicts more mergers are likely to happen in the future.

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