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Heard About Michigan's "Ritzy" New Hospital?
Business Journal

Heard About Michigan's "Ritzy" New Hospital?

A Q&A with Gerard van Grinsven, former Ritz-Carlton executive and CEO of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital

Gerard van Grinsven, with his courtly manners and thick Dutch accent, is a hotelier's hotelier. He has spent his career in the operations, corporate, and general management offices of some of the finest properties in the world: the Hotel InterContinental, the Mandarin Oriental Jakarta, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, and the Peninsula Manila. His last posting was at The Ritz-Carlton, where he opened more than 20 hotels, many of them ranking among the luxury chain's best.

So what on earth is Van Grinsven doing running a hospital in Michigan?

If you look at healthcare today, there is a stronger need for excellence in service.

A lot of people have asked that. In June 2006, Van Grinsven was appointed president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System's new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, projected to open in the spring of 2009. It was a controversial decision because Van Grinsven has no healthcare experience. "It is mind-boggling," wrote Roy M. Poses, M.D., "that a hospital would put a hospitality executive with no healthcare background, no matter how accomplished, in charge of running a hospital."

Nonetheless, it was a shrewd move. West Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit, is one of the most affluent communities in the country. Locals are quite accustomed to luxury surroundings, and few people are more qualified to cater to that aesthetic than Van Grinsven. Furthermore, even non-profit hospitals have to operate in the black, and all hospitals are in fierce competition with one another. Putting Van Grinsven in charge of a $310 million, 300 private-bed hospital, on 160 acres of wetlands and woodlands means bringing Ritz-Carlton standards to hospital care. That's a tough differentiator to beat.

But can he pull it off and keep costs down? And is a luxury hospital ethical, when nearly 47 million Americans don't even have health insurance? In this Q&A, Van Grinsven explains his controversial appointment, how he'll keep his hospital's rates at or below average, and why he thinks his hotel-like hospital is the model that future hospitals should emulate.

GMJ: How will Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital be different from other hospitals in the area?

Van Grinsven: We will differentiate ourselves by combining the highest levels of clinical excellence with a world-class service experience. The Henry Ford Medical Group is one of the most established and well-respected group practices in the country, with more than a thousand physicians who are known for providing high-quality, safe care and translating leading-edge research into clinical excellence. We will combine great clinical programs with a second-to-none service experience that will revolve around the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our patients and their families. It is truly the best of both worlds.

Also, the facility will not look like your typical hospital. It will look like a northern Michigan lodge -- more like a hotel than a hospital. There will be lots of wood and stone integrated into the building, and the entire structure will overlook a pond and a vast expanse of woodlands and wetlands.

GMJ: Is the look of the hospital the primary differentiator?

Van Grinsven: The real differentiator will be our focus on wellness, not just illness. We want to make people feel comfortable to come and utilize our facility when they're perfectly healthy. Whether it's taking nutrition classes or participating in an exercise program, we want to provide programs and services that will help the people in our community immerse themselves in new healthy ways of living and have the ongoing support to reach their health goals.

And yes, the look and feel will be different from a traditional hospital. We want to create a very open, floating-market retail environment with wood floors, an open fireplace, and other elements that will be very warm, soothing, and inviting. In the heart of that retail space, we'll have an auditorium with forty to fifty seats around a state-of-the-art kitchen.

One of the visions we have set for this hospital is that we will have the highest quality, tastiest, and healthiest food in healthcare in the United States, because the most common complaint of patients all over the country is the quality of hospital food. So in the spirit of wellness, we want to provide healthy food choices to our patients so they can eat healthy to stay well. I believe with food, we have an incredible opportunity to make a significant difference in how we treat our patients and their families. We will prove that good healthy food can contribute to healing.

GMJ: Typically, hospital food literally adds insult to injury.

Van Grinsven: Precisely. In addition, the kitchen auditorium opens up another door to invite the community to come to our facility for cooking classes. We are also planning on partnering with various professional food organizations in the area to create a panel of experts that will hold our culinary team accountable so we consistently deliver the highest quality food possible. Furthermore, we are committed to doing research and using existing studies to show the link between healthy gourmet cuisine and medical outcomes. After all, this isn't just about great-tasting food; it's about helping people eat healthy to live healthy.

GMJ: There was some controversy when Henry Ford Health System chose you as president and CEO rather than someone with extensive healthcare experience. Tell me why you were chosen.

We want to challenge the healthcare industry to advance the industry. This is not just about our hospital.

Van Grinsven: I think if you look at healthcare today, there is a stronger need for excellence in service. People are becoming more and more informed about the healthcare options they have, and as a result, demand more out of their healthcare experience. We believe that if we focus on safe, high-quality care first and foremost, and then combine that with a great service experience, we can differentiate ourselves.

The other differentiator we will have is our commitment to total wellness, not just treating illness. We can create an environment where we don't just focus solely on the actual treatment of a patient, but we look at all the other elements that will contribute to them living a healthy life. So the overall experience for our patients and their families will be a very rewarding one.

For instance, we know that people, especially women, are looking for programs and activities that will help them with their physical and mental well-being, so we created a wellness institute that will feature services that shift the focus of medical care toward achieving optimal health. By blending advanced medical practice and research with proven complementary therapies, we will address all factors that contribute to health, healing, and disease treatment and prevention.

GMJ: Beyond the value-added programs, how will you deliver on excellence in service?

Van Grinsven: It starts with how we treat our employees and how we select people. If you don't have the right people in the right roles, they won't be productive and create the emotional engagement with your customers you need to be successful. When selecting, we analyze the natural talents of prospective employees, not just their skill set and experience. Then we put them in a position where they can utilize those natural talents to become the most effective team member they can. The result is a highly emotionally engaged and motivated employee who is happier and more productive.

It is also essential to create an environment where employees are treated with trust, respect, and dignity -- one in which they will be involved in the decision-making processes in a way where they can really affect the way the hospital is run. The environment we create will make them feel like they are the most important asset to our organization, which they are. As a result, they will feel much more engaged in the vision of what we want to accomplish.

If we set up that foundation successfully, we won't have to worry too much about how our employees engage with our patients, their families, the physicians, and the community we operate in. They will be empowered and excited about their jobs, and that will shine through when they are interacting with the patients we serve.

GMJ: How do your physicians feel about all this?

Van Grinsven: One of the greatest strengths of Henry Ford Health System is the superb clinical leadership in our organization. We've made sure physician leaders have been well represented in every decision we make to ensure we are taking advantage of the great medical minds in our organization.

At Henry Ford, our physicians are known for having a deep interest in creating innovative improvements to patient care and taking leading-edge research from the bench to the bedside in an efficient and safe manner. Given that, the prospect of a new state-of-the-art hospital with the latest technology and a commitment to creating new, patient-centered programs that revolve around improving care is very appealing to physicians.

GMJ: Cutting-edge innovation is expensive. How much higher will the rates in West Bloomfield be than in other local hospitals?

Van Grinsven: They won't be higher at all.

GMJ: No?

Van Grinsven: No.

GMJ: How on earth will you control costs?

Van Grinsven: We have a number of innovative ways we are keeping costs down. For example, our commitment to providing the safest, highest quality care possible will help because developing innovative programs to make healthcare safer results in a reduction in healthcare costs. Furthermore, selecting people based on the right talent will provide a high return on investment due to a tremendous drop in turnover and higher employee engagement. Also, our focus on the overall optimal health of our communities, which means creating services and programs that are designed around keeping people healthy and not just treating illness, will assist greatly in reducing costs.

GMJ: Do you think the West Bloomfield model will be replicable?

Van Grinsven: Yes. We want to challenge the healthcare industry to advance the industry. This is not just about us and our hospital; it's about changing the way people think about healthcare in this country and challenging them to come up with innovative and effective ways to improve care and reduce costs. Furthermore, we want to create an environment that serves as a model for how healthcare organizations interact with their communities. We want to expand the role of a traditional hospital by engaging and educating the people in our community on how they can live healthier lives.

We believe we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to help support our community, and there is no limit to the possible ways we can do that. In short, we want to take healthcare and healing beyond the boundaries of imagination.

-- Interviewed by Jennifer Robison

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