Follow That Hunch

Gerard van Grinsven was a highly successful general manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, but he took a chance and made an improbable job transition.

A good idea can be a rare thing. Gerard van Grinsven was a highly successful general manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, but he took a chance and made an improbable job transition: He traded a successful and meteoric career in the luxury hotel business for the opportunity to design and build a hospital in West Bloomfield.

Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System, had no clue whether the appointment would work. All she knew was that van Grinsven, even without any health care training, helped develop one of the nation’s most successful medical tourism programs. The idea was simple: Patients would fly in, undergo an operation at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and spend their recovery time at the Ritz-Carlton.

So Schlichting surmised van Grinsven could create the same caring program at a new medical center. Her instinct was correct. For starters, the 3-year-old hospital, at Maple and Drake roads, has surpassed all of its financial projections in what is a highly competitive industry. The hospital, designed after a northern Michigan resort, offers private suites over shared rooms, organic food, a spa and wellness center, retail shops designed after a quaint village, and unconventional treatments such as acupuncture.

There’s also a stadium kitchen where patients, family members, and the community can access healthy cooking demonstrations and wellness programs. In fact, the entire hospital is a model of nutrition — there are no deep fat fryers, and just one small freezer. Naturally, nearly everything is made from scratch.

Mission accomplished? Not yet. For his next act, van Grinsven is adding a working greenhouse, likely the first built alongside a hospital. The soon-to-open structure will provide food to patients as well as serve as an educational center for community groups, students, and visitors. Truth be told, I came up with the idea, but van Grinsven and a group of private investors brought the project to life.

The greenhouse, which overlooks a large pond framed by woodlands, is one of many ideas van Grinsven wants to bring from the drawing board to the hospital’s West Bloomfield campus. Down the road, he envisions a boutique hotel and conference center that caters to business and nonprofit leaders from around the world.

Here’s how it would work: During a management retreat or strategy session, each guest will receive an in-depth physical. Along with the examination, guests would walk away with a personal nutrition plan, a workout regimen, and any number of spiritual disciplines to pursue such as yoga or meditation.

The good news is other hospitals are taking note of the wellness initiatives, including medical facilities within the Henry Ford organization. Why it took so long for hospitals to offer holistic programs and serve nutritional food is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the best answer is that hospitals, like many large and complicated organizations, are highly resistant to change.

The industry only began to alter course when an outsider brought to life one of the most innovative hospitals in the world. And it all began when Schlichting threw convention out the window and opened the door to a good idea. db

R.J. King