SOUTH HAVEN — Will it be a hospital or a suite of medical offices?
That’s the question on the mind of some South Haven area residents who wonder what types of services will be offered when Bronson Healthcare Group opens its new, smaller hospital in South Haven at the end of next year.
“One of the first things they did was close the surgical unit,” said South Haven resident Don Bemis, regarding Bronson’s decision a year ago to end surgical services at its current South Haven hospital and send patients to other Bronson facilities in Paw Paw and Kalamazoo. “I’d like to know what else is going to be moved that requires people to go out of town.”
Bemis made his remarks during a public hearing held by South Haven’s Planning Commission to determine whether to approve a site plan and special use permit for the new hospital.
Commissioner Clark Gruber posed a similar question to Bronson officials.
“Is this a hospital or a medical building?” he asked.
Turns out, the new $20 million hospital will be both.
“It is licensed as a hospital, not just a medical office,” said Jake Smith, facilities manager at Bronson. “The main hospital will be on the first floor. The medical facility will be on the second floor. All services that are in the current building will be offered in the new building.”
The new two-story, 35,600-square-foot hospital and medical facility will be located on four acres of land on Blue Star Highway, just north of 8th Avenue in South Haven, accordingto Tracy Hutchinson, an engineer for Driesenga & Associates of Holland, who developed the site plan.
Bronson owns the site already. It is located northeast of the current hospital. Once the facility is built, it will house eight in-patient beds, a larger emergency room with 14 beds, labs for medical services and medical offices.
It will replace the sprawling hospital that fronts S. Bailey Avenue. Built in 1941 and added onto seven times over the years, the current hospital will be eventually torn down, along with an attached medical office building.
“There’s a lot of infrastructure from 1941 that is failing more and more,” Smith said. “We did a significant study several years ago (to determine whether to update the entire structure). ... It would cost $40-$50 million to rehab it ... a much more significant expense.”
“If we do expand we would expand there,” Smith said. For now, however, the surface area will be used as green space.
“Nothing concrete has been decided yet,” Smith went on to say. The hospital, however, may use the property for an outdoor park for rehabilitation patients.
Planners ended up approving Bronson’s special use application and site plan, but not before having a discussion on whether to stipulate that Bronson agree to maintain and expand the services it now offers in South Haven.
Planner Michael Neiss argued the city’s master plan indicates that approval for special uses in the medical district should be based on businesses that “promote and expand” the district.
“My concern in making the agreement (for approving the site plan and special use permit) is no loss of services,” he said.
Other planners disagreed, saying that Bronson is a privately run health care business, whose services will ultimately be dictated by whether people use them or not.
“It’s up to the residents of the area to determine what happens in the future,” Planner Larry Heinig said, giving as an example the closure of Bronson South Haven’s surgical services last year. “We lost surgery because only 11 percent of the residents were using surgery that was available here. It’s economic. I don’t think we can blame hospital management.”