Major medical development facing opposition gets township approval

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GRAND HAVEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Following months of debate, and hours of public comment on Monday night alone, the Grand Haven Township board approved a proposal from Spectrum Health and Holland Hospital to build a multi-million dollar joint medical facility in the area.

The turnout was enough to move Monday night's Grand Haven Township board meeting to the fire station, where board members heard nearly three hours of public comment, mostly in opposition to the project.

"Where is the public support for this project, who are you listening to," asked one speaker.

Dubbed "Health Pointe," the proposal calls for a 120,000 square foot facility situated on a 12-acre plot of land on the township's north end near US-31 and Robbins Road. Representatives for the project said the facility would offer a wide range of services, including primary and urgent care, along with medical imaging and outpatient surgery.

"It’ll be one stop shopping all under one roof," said Josh Troast, director of operations for Health Pointe.

Troast said the facility would be equipped to provide 80 percent of services needed by local patients, while adding more choice for healthcare in the area.

But chief concern among opponents is how the project will impact North Ottawa Community Health System, the area's existing hospital that's been operating for nearly a century. But Health Pointe representatives said during Monday night's meeting the facility is not designed to be a full-blown hospital.

"We already have roughly 20 physicians in this community and we service roughly 20,000 lives in the northern Ottawa area," Troast said. "This will give us a facility to best meet their needs moving forward."

Lody Zwarensteyn, former president with the Alliance for Health watchdog group, said he isn't buying it. Zwarensteyn said the addition of the facility will duplicate services and dilute the already saturated market.

"What they're doing is not just saying 'we're going to let a little office building go in,'" he said. "It's going to have services that are going to suck out anything that has any profits for the hospital and it'll kill the hospital."

Concerns of Spectrum monopolizing the market are legitimate, but the lack of consensus sought from the community by township leaders is most troubling, Zwarensteyn said.

"If they all agreed 'hey, we don't need the hospital, all we need is a helipad to drop people off at Spectrum downtown in Grand Rapids, that would be fine,' he said. "But that process wasn't followed, people haven't agreed to get rid of the hospital."

Several speakers also expressed concerns over Spectrum's request that the property be tax exempt. The medical provider is instead negotiating an agreement with the township to make voluntary payments in lieu of taxes.

Officials with the neighboring city of Grand Haven also voiced worries that no traffic study had been conducted in the area prior to approving the project.

“What they have allowed is a large, regional player to come into this community, as they have across the region, and build a Taj-Mahal to duplication," said Jennifer VanSkiver, spokesperson for North Ottawa Community Health services, following Monday night's meeting.

"There will be nothing inside that building that isn’t already provided locally, cost effectively, and with the highest of quality.”

VanSkiver said the decision will "fracture services already being offered," while driving up costs and compromising quality.

A citizen petition drive was collecting signatures during the meeting Monday night in an effort to challenge the township's amended zoning laws making the project possible.

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