Over 50 years ago, a group of doctors and volunteers in west Oakland County became concerned. The population of the lakes area was continuing to grow, and people were beginning to settle permanently in the area. But the closest hospital in an emergency was in Pontiac, Ann Arbor, or Detroit, which for most area residents was at least a half-hour drive away.
This presented a problem.
“The ambulance service was provided by the local undertaker in Milford, which was a bit spotty because you had to survive an ambulance trip in the hearse either to Ann Arbor or Pontiac,” recalls Ralph Wise, one of the original volunteers who pushed for a west Oakland hospital starting back in the 1960s.
Wise was involved in many other activities around Milford when he was asked to join this group by Jay Elridge — Milford’s planning consultant at the time — who, along with Dr. Norman Krieger, were two of the key people in bringing a hospital to western Oakland County.
However, it would take decades before their dream became a reality.
Due to numerous setbacks — including an inability to get a Certificate of Need (CON) from the state of Michigan — it wouldn’t be until 1984 that this group finally saw the beginning of their dream realized.
“There were a lot of dedicated people on board for 10 years who worked hard (to get a hospital) without a lot to show for it. And they deserve recognition for all they did,” Wise said.
In March 1986, what was then known as Huron Valley Hospital finally opened its doors to lakes area residents.
The hospital is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the Healthy Harvest Bash 2011 from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18 on the hospital’s campus in Commerce Township. The event will include activities for children and health screenings for adults. Additional information can be found at www.hvsh.org/openhouse.
The original hospital was 160,000 square feet and was situated on its current location at Commerce and South Commerce roads in Commerce Township.
Former Commerce Township Supervisor Robert Long sold the property to the hospital — which is how the hospital began its roots in the middle of an apple orchard.
“The establishment of the hospital was really a grassroots effort from the community,” said Lynn Torossian, the president of DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital. “It was basically a group of people who said we need a hospital to serve the residents in this community. And Huron Valley has grown from the little hospital in the apple orchard — which still exists in the center — to this kind of bigger health care campus that does much more than was ever anticipated, even in the beginning.”
Today, the hospital has grown to 444,341 square feet while expanding its services in cardiac, surgical, cancer, obstetric, and emergency care, just to name a few.
Although the hospital’s primary focus of serving the health of the community has not changed, Torossian said she believes that its ability to do so has increased with additional services and continuing advances in technology.
“I would argue we have the best birthing center in the area — at least within southeast Michigan — and I think most people who have been here would agree,” she said.
“The hospital has certainly benefited a lot of mothers,” Wise said. “When we first had our design for the hospital, the Michigan Department of Health questioned our need for an obstetrics department. And the first decision we had made is that we had to have an obstetrics department. Otherwise, there was no sense in having a hospital.”
It’s not just mothers who have benefited, however. Lakes area residents with heart troubles have, too.
“We never expected that we would be able to take care of people with heart attacks here. And we can do that now,” Torossian said.
Since the hospital first began performing emergency angioplasties on heart attack patients in February 2008, 206 have been performed through last month.
Eventually, the hospital hopes to be able to do elective angioplasty to treat individuals with cardiovascular disease even before they have a heart attack.
DMC Huron Valley-Sinai also performs a variety of surgeries in several speciality areas, including general, bariatric, urological, orthopedic, and endoscopic procedures.
Torossian said the hospital hopes to continue implementing advanced surgical techniques such as use of the da Vinci robot, which assists surgeons performing laparoscopic procedures.
The hospital has also expanded its emergency services throughout the years, especially in light of the hospital’s 29-minute guarantee, which Torossian said is not a “marketing gimmick.”
“It’s about providing the best quality care to patients, which to us means you get in to see a doctor, are evaluated, and then are on your way to recovery,” she said. “This (guarantee) has created a big demand, so we doubled the emergency room, which has private bays with walls and not curtains. We see about 100 emergency cases a day, which is a lot for a hospital this size.”
In another effort to improve the care and comfort of patients, DMC Huron Valley-Sinai is in the midst of a construction project for an orthopedic wing which will remake physician’s offices into 21 private rooms. This remodeling will make it so that approximately 83 percent of the 153 beds in the hospital will be private. Officials hope to have it completed by November of this year.
Not only is there a large consumer demand for private rooms, but Torossian said she believes that “all people are able to heal better if it’s quieter.”
The construction is also benefiting Oakland County contractors since the hospital made a commitment to hire at least 25 percent of the necessary contractors from Oakland County. Torossian said she believes that figure is actually closer to 40 percent.
The hospital also tries to buy local, especially with regards to food services, as hospital officials look to purchase locally-grown produce and dairy products. And although it’s not possible to buy certain products locally, such as implants, Torossian said the hospital utilizes local representatives of the companies that manufacture the goods they need.
The hospital is also one of the largest employers in the area, employing roughly 1,300 people. A little less than 1,000 of those employees are full-time workers.
“It’s difficult to measure the hospital’s total economic impact on the area, but it’s pretty large,” Torossian said.
However, the hospital will be contributing even more to the community in the form of taxes. The Detroit Medical Center (DMC) was recently purchased by a for-profit company, Vanguard, and is now considered a private hospital rather than a non-profit institution.
“The main difference in Vanguard buying the DMC is whether we are tax-paying or not tax-paying. So I suggested to (Commerce Township Supervisor) Tom Zoner that I should probably be his best friend because we’re now paying taxes to Commerce Township and Oakland County,” Torossian joked, adding that the hospital being in private hands will not change the way it serves the community.
“It doesn’t change anything about the services we provide, how we provide them, or the people who work here,” she said. “I think it’s been a very positive change.”
Although Commerce will be seeing extra tax money, Zoner said the hospital is “the No. 1 — whether public or private — asset to Commerce Township.”
“It has been a benefit not just to Commerce but to the surrounding communities, as well,” he said.
Commerce Township Trustee Rob Long, whose father sold the property to the hospital, agrees.
“With the hospital here, it has made it a more desirable place to live knowing that we have a medical facility to count on close to home,” he said. “Personally, they have been a wonderful neighbor, and I hope they feel the same way about us.”