Henry Ford, MSU, Pistons dunk $2.5B into expanded health facilities in the Motor City

The “motor” in Motor City is probably Ford manufactured. Ford Motor Company began in a converted factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit in 1903. Soon, two out of three cars on the road were Fords, $5 factory wages propelled a city out of poverty and Detroiters were going to Henry Ford Hospital for care.

This week, Henry Ford Health announced a plan to once again bring prosperity to Motor City.

Wednesday, Henry Ford Health, Michigan State University and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores announced a plan to pump $2.5 billion into a new joint medical research center, hospital expansions, housing developments and public spaces. The community development project aims to turn the city's New Center neighborhood into a "vibrant, walkable community with state-of-the-art residential, commercial, retail, recreational and health care components," officials said in a press release.

The health system plans to tear down the Health Alliance Plan headquarters and construct a $1.8 billion hospital in Detroit's New Center area across the street from the existing Henry Ford Hospital, officials announced at the Pistons Performance Facility, The Detroit News reported. New facilities will feature all private patient rooms, an expanded emergency department, intensive care units and advanced operating suites.

The joint medical research center with Michigan State University will align basic and translational research, "fueling innovation and discovery through an academically and clinically integrated partnership of doctors, nurses, scientists, academics, and public health practitioners," officials said.

“The reimagination of our healthcare campus in Detroit has been a long-held vision for us and we’ve taken exceptional pride in challenging ourselves—a quest to discover what’s truly possible alongside our partners,” President and CEO Robert G. Riney of Henry Ford Health said in a press release. “We’ve welcomed Tom Gores’ ‘big thinking’ approach since the very start of our partnership. He’s a great catalyst in stretching people’s expectations and aspirations, and has really helped us drive a common mission and vision that will help us create something truly transformative for our patients and families, our communities, as well as the best team in healthcare.”

Henry Ford Hospital’s current shared patient rooms will be converted to private rooms. The new hospital would have 877 beds, the same number as the existing hospital, but a new patient tower would house 350 of those, officials said, The Detroit News reported. The move to private-only rooms has been seen across the region following the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased awareness of hospital-acquired infections. A spokesperson for Henry Ford Health told Fierce Healthcare that the decision to move to exclusively private rooms "makes sense from a patient privacy perspective, a safety perspective and a care perspective."

Groundbreaking for both the hospital expansion and the construction of the Ford-MSU joint research center are slotted for 2024, according to a press release. The two entities entered a 30-year partnership in 2021 to address health inequity.

Since the city’s peak in 1950, the population has seen a 63% decline, according to the Impact on Urban Health institute. Now, 83.2% of the Detroit population identifies as Black. The adjacent Oakland County reports only 7.8% of its population living in poverty while Detroit reports 38% of citizens living below the poverty line.

When it comes to health insurance, 12% of Detroiters are not covered. Preventable diseases are experienced by a large portion of the population with 21% of people being diagnosed with asthma, 13% with diabetes and 11.4% with cardiovascular disease.

The city has a maternal mortality rate three times the national average, according to state statistics. Only 59% of birthers receive prenatal care, compared to 74% statewide. The city’s rate of HIV incidence is four times the rate of the rest of the state.  

According to the six-hospital health system, the hospital expansion will represent its largest single healthcare investment in the city of Detroit ever.

“Detroit is seeing more investment, construction and job growth than it has in a half-century and today's announcement of this $2.5 billion development takes things to a new level," City of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a press release. "This partnership between Henry Ford Health, the Pistons and Michigan State University represents an incredible investment in our city. Detroiters will have not only a new state-of-the-art hospital and medical research facility, but also more opportunities to live, work and play, right here in this neighborhood."

The health system is the fourth largest in Michigan as of 2021, trailing Trinity Health, Ascension and Corewell Health. Henry Ford Health operates 250 care locations throughout the state and employs 33,000 people, including nearly 6,000 physicians and researchers.

The expanding location already looms large in Detroit, as Henry Ford Health functions as a safety-net hospital. The health system engaged in 2,000 research projects annually, a number the project hopes to expand upon in order to offer more advanced care.

Last year, the partners funded $1 million in cancer research with 40% of grants tackling disparities in cancer outcomes, according to Henry Ford Health.

Along with private rooms, the plan seeks to improve patient care by upgrading technology and modernizing infrastructure in order to serve a growing number of patients. The new infrastructure will expand the existing web of tunnels and bridges to connect facilities and patients in the bitter Michigan winters.

“Like all major U.S. cities, our great city of Detroit deserves a premier academic medical center and destination for the most advanced care, research and education,” Riney said. “As an anchor institution that’s been committed to building strong, healthy communities for more than a century, we know we can deliver on that promise—to double down on our commitment to being relentless advocates for those we serve."

Plans for the community development are still in formation with the inclusion of a hotel being up in the air. Retail spaces, green spaces and outside basketball courts are set to be included along with residential developments that will include market-rate units and adorable housing.

According to a spokesperson for Henry Ford Health, the percentage of units that will be designated as affordable housing has yet to be determined. A representative for the Detroit Pistons told Fierce Healthcare that it is anticipated that there will be at least 550 residential units with an affordable housing component.