When the Henry Ford Health System looked to open a new state-of-the-art hospital in West Bloomfield Township, it turned to a gentleman from the Netherlands who operated Ritz-Carlton hotels in Dearborn and around the world. Gerard van Grinsven is the president and chief executive officer of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, which under his leadership since its opening in 2008 has become one of the most-revered facilities in the state and country. Born and raised in the Netherlands, van Grinsvin was graced with the traditional Dutch curiosity of the world, as well as a no-nonsense work ethic and interest in people that drew him to hotel management and opening new Ritz-Carlton hotels in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. After serving as vice president and area general manager for Ritz-Carlton hotels in Dearborn, Cleveland, St. Louis and Philadelphia, he decided to make a change and bring his hospitality knowledge to the health care field in order to give patients a better hospital experience. As a result, Henry Ford West Bloomfield is not only a standout facility for patient care, but also for health outreach and wellness programs for families and community members. Married with four children and living in Franklin, van Grinsven recently spoke to the Spinal Column Newsweekly about Henry Ford West Bloomfield and its accomplishments, as well as goals for the future.
In 2006, you were officially named the President and Chief Executive Officer of Henry Ford West Bloomfield before the facility opened in 2008. When you first started, what were your goals on how to mold the hospital in your vision and do you feel those goals have come to fruition six years later?
GVG: Thank you for having me, by the way. In 2006, I was brought on board to help Henry Ford Health System in opening the newest and most innovative hospital concept and project in its history. When we started to work together, we created a vision where we wanted to create a unique and a distinct health care offering to the communities we operated in by taking full advantage of the strength of the Henry Ford Health System in terms of its clinical programs, its research, and its 100 years of history in delivering world-class health care to its community — in particular, with having the Henry Ford Medical Group, which is one of the oldest physician groups in the country, which is known for its quality and low costs.
So with these elements, we then decided that we were going to create a community center for well-being, rather than a typical hospital, where foremost, we would create great clinical programs, patient safety, but also become health coaches and health mentors to the communities we operate in so that not only would we be seen as a hospital, but we would be seen as a place where the community could go to and be educated on how to stay healthy so they can live a healthier and more productive life.
With that, we then started to design the facility to really reflect being a community center. We also focused on creating an environment, that this would be a healing campus for our patients and their family members.
So we put a lot and effort and thought in how could we create the correct patient room, which would help the patient in its healing, and how could we bring nature into the building, so that the nature could help in the healing process of our patients, and how can we design processes for internal design, which would ensure safety and quality for our patients and their family members.
With all these elements in place, we, in an incredible team effort with much support from the Henry Ford Health System leaders, then delivered on the vision of being a community center of well-being, and three and a half years after the opening, we have not only delivered on the vision but we have actually created extraordinary outcomes which are well beyond the expectations that were set upon us.
Are there any future plans for more development at the hospital and how is emerging technology playing a role in the care of patients at Henry Ford?
GVG: After three and a half years, we have shown that we have grown month over month. We are doing very well financially and as we continue this growth, at the right time, we will start to continue the growth in building our small patient rooms when the time is right, so we foresee continuous growth here.
With regards to technology, obviously technology will continue to play a significant role in how we can create a safer environment for our patients and offer them more quality levels by reducing costs so that we can become more efficient, and therefore can spend more time giving great quality care to our patients. We continuously are seeking to find ways in how we, from a technology point of view, can become better operators and therefore give better care to our patients and the communities we operate in.
As part of the numerous awards the hospital has won, there have also been honors given for the facility’s efforts to be a green building by reducing waste, noise and energy consumption. How important are these energy initiatives to the well-being of the hospital?
GVG: These focuses are absolutely crucial for the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and for its community we operate in. As you might know, we are sitting on 160 acres of wetlands and woodlands, so it was just a natural choice to become a LEED-certified building and to insure that we would protect the environment we are operating in and utilize it so that it could also be a healing component for our patients, family members and employees. We believe that as a new organization having a new building that that’s what we owe to the community, our customers and our employees.
I believe because of this we are now attracting new customers and the right type of employees who are looking for organizations which are embracing the whole focus on LEED-certification. It really has helped us to create the right environment for our patients and our family members to be in.
You were previously the vice president and area general manager for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. What adjustments did you have to make from operating hotels in the hospitality field to a hospital in the health care field? Henry Ford West Bloomfield is also known for its Main Street Wellness services, including a hair salon, a cafe, and cooking classes. How important do you believe it is to have these services as it is to have quality care for your patients?
GVG: Obviously, the health care field is much more complicated than the hotel field. However, there are a lot of synergies between the hotel industry and health care, in particular when it comes to the emotional engagement and certain services you need to provide to your customers. And in particular, when you have a patient coming to a hospital, he or she will be very concerned about their health, they will be scared, they will be worried, they don’t know how it impacts their loved ones, and they don’t know how it will impact their careers. They need more genuine care and comfort than any six-star deluxe hotel. In the running of a hospital from a customer perspective, he or she will have to check in and stay overnight in a room and be in a clean environment. He or she needs to be fed and discharged and therefore be checked out.
So, many of the principal service concepts are very similar to the hotel industry and I believe that by me having that experience, I could bring a new perspective to the table in addition to delivering great clinical care and patient safety.
It’s very important to understand that we’re in health care, we’re not in sick care, and when you’re in health care, you provide extraordinary clinical programs and you deliver them in the safest possible way you can. But in addition, we also need to make sure that we invest in the well-being and wellness of our customers, and my customers are my patients, my family members, the community I operate in, the physicians, and of course the employees who are the most important aspects of this building.
I felt very strongly that we had to create programs which would address some of those wellness activities because they would help the patient in their healing process, and they would help the family members in handling the stress and the distraught they have to face when they have a loved one here. It helps the employees to be in a much more healthier environment so that they can become more productive; therefore, they feel that they are being valued and that we invest in their well-being.
All of these elements of Main Street are really crucial to creating an extraordinary blueprint that not only will attract the patients and their family members, but will actually attract healthy people to come to this community center for well-being and learn how to continue living a healthier, more productive life.
You’re originally a native of the Netherlands and you graduated from the The Hotel Management School in the Netherlands with a bachelor’s degree in hotel management. What drove you to pursue a degree and a career in hospitality? How did you get your start in the business?
GVG: I actually started as a bartender, and as a bartender you learn a lot about people and you really get to know how to relate well to all kinds of different people, and that led me to go into the hotel industry and get a degree in hotel management, because I felt like I could make a difference in taking care of people’s lives and that ultimately led to going overseas and being in Asia and basically having an environment that I could continuously find ways to deliver on the needs of our customers, which then ultimately led to one day getting the opportunity to bring that know-how and that experience to the health care field.
When did you first come to America and was it a culture shock for you having grown up in the Netherlands? How did you end up finding your way to Michigan and how do you view working in West Bloomfield?
GVG: I came to the United States about 14 years and prior to that, I spent 12 years in Asia. I lived in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Korea.
If you know a little bit more about the Dutch people — we are, by history, travelers and we constantly want to explore and learn from different cultures, because we believe that helps us in our upbringing and life experiences. So coming to America obviously was a totally different experience from being in Asia and Europe, but it was very much welcomed by me and the family because it helped us to learn another new culture and to get to learn other people with different perspectives. So, the adjustment was relatively easy for us and, as you can see, we are still here and we completely love living here.
I was the vice president for food and beverage for the Ritz-Carlton hotels worldwide, and obviously with opening 20 Ritz-Carlton hotels, I have traveled a lot and after awhile, the travel really became too much, especially when you need to take care of the family. So I asked the leadership of Ritz-Carlton to give me my own hotel so that I could bring more balance to my life and they gave me four choices; Singapore, Jamaica, Los Angeles and then they gave me the choice of Dearborn, Michigan as a last choice. I decided to choose the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn because I really felt that Michigan really makes me feel at home because it is four seasons, like in the Netherlands, and it has a lot of water here through your lakes and the Dutch people love water. You have incredible institutions here around education, and I felt the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn needed the help to make it the Ritz-Carlton it should be. Within four years, we really created an incredible experience for the customers there.
So that is why we came to Michigan. As you know, Michigan is an incredible family state. People are very down-to-earth here, no-nonsense people. If you know anything about the Dutch people, we are very down-to-earth and no-nonsense type of people, so we really feel at home here.
West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michelle Economou Ureste said that she has previously met with Henry Ford Hospital officials and the representatives from the Road Commission for Oakland County and road commissioners about the problem of the hospital being located on a two-lane road. What are your feelings on how people can currently access the hospital from Maple Road and do you feel that road improvements are necessary and would better serve the hospital? Also, The Supreme Court recently upheld the Affordable Health Care Act. What are your feelings on how this ruling could affect the services given at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital?
GVG: We continuously need to look at creating the right environment for all stakeholders, whether it’s the patients, the families, the employees who work here, and the community members who are living here, who obviously have their homes on Maple Road. So it behooves us to consistently work towards improvements in access not just to the hospital, but also to other businesses, to other residential areas as we continue to develop West Bloomfield, which as you know, has tremendous potential for growth. It’s a great quality of living, not only in West Bloomfield but in all surrounding townships.
The position of the Henry Ford Health System and the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital is to play a significant role in all communities in southeast Michigan, and we are constantly looking for ways that we can deliver good quality health care at the lowest cost for all people. So, the latest decision by the Supreme Court is going to bring additional access to health care so that more community members can benefit from it.
Of course, we need to find ways that we can continue giving great quality care at the lowest cost, so while we are welcoming that we can give more health care services to the communities we operate in, we need to also make sure that we can do it in a way that it’s always at the highest quality and that all community members will have access to our facilities.
As you know, Henry Ford Health System is providing a lot of services on the uninsured. Last year we spent $230 million on the uninsured by giving them great quality care, but obviously that is a major cost factor to the system in order to sustain good performance as an organization. This health care act will help us to continue doing the mission we have set out to produce, which is giving great quality health care to all community members.
What are your personal and professional goals for the future?
GVG: My personal and professional goals are to continue making a difference in people’s lives. And if through this position I can make a difference with the extraordinary people who are working here with me, who are really the anchor of our success, who are the assets who are making the difference, then we will continue to create programs and activities here which will benefit our community members.
So far we’ve had 52 health systems in the country come and benchmark us. As you might have noticed, we won the Malcom-Voltrage award, which is a very difficult quality award, one of the highest quality awards in the nation. We won that as the Henry Ford Health System. We are very proud of that and we want to continue showing to this community that we can create world-class services and programs so that we can make an impact and a difference in people’s lives in their community, and if I can be a part of that, that will fulfill my personal and professional goals.