Starkman: Beaumont Doctors Played for Fools if They Kept Damning Survey Secret in Exchange for Delayed Merger Vote

August 15, 2020, 9:35 PM

The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer, is a former Detroit News business reporter who blogs aStarkman Approved.

By Eric Starkman

Beaumont CEO John Fox

Leadership doctors representing Beaumont Health’s eight hospitals were promised by the company’s board that a vote on merging Michigan’s biggest hospital network into Chicago-based Advocate Aurora would be delayed until staff concerns are resolved, according to a Saturday story in Crain’s Detroit Business.  If that promise was responsible for the doctors deciding not to share the damning results of a survey showing no confidence in CEO John Fox with their colleagues, they were played for fools.

The promise of a delayed vote was a meaningless gesture. Regardless of when Beaumont’s board rubber-stamps Fox’s goal to make Beaumont a subsidiary of an out-of-state hospital company with an inferior reputation, the transaction requires regulatory approvals, including the blessings of Dana Nessel, Michigan’s attorney general. Nessel last month said she needed six to nine months to review Fox’s proposed merger, meaning that January would be the earliest approval date.

Beaumont is fast imploding and suffering a mounting exodus of top surgeons, anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), who are responsible for the company’s most lucrative procedures. Massive layoffs have resulted in staff shortages and nurses and other medical staff say they are stretched too thin and can’t provide the quality of patient care for which Beaumont was once famed.

Beaumont’s doctors and nurses readily admit privately they despise Fox and COO Carolyn Wilson, who they regard as carpetbaggers responsible for destroying a once great hospital network for personal enrichment. Beaumont hospitals are heavily staffed by people from southeastern Michigan or who take pride living in the region.

Fox hails from Atlanta and Wilson from Minneapolis, although she previously lived in Grand Rapids. Fox earned nearly $6 million in annual compensation according to the most recent public filings; Wilson earned more than $2 million. Both are likely to receive handsome payouts if Beaumont is merged into Advocate Aurora, and then promptly exit the company.

Culture of fear

Beaumont has a toxic, retaliatory culture where doctors and nurses who challenge leadership or question policies are summarily fired, including the former head of pediatrics who protested cuts he said would harm patient care.  As more than 1,500 doctors completed the survey anonymously, the findings no doubt are quite damning.

If the survey findings were made public, it would be tough for the board to continue backing Fox and Wilson, whose firings would be cause for major celebration throughout the Beaumont system. The survey’s findings could also prompt Nessel to nix the Advocate Aurora merger because it could potentially accelerate Beaumont’s rapid decline in the midst of the pandemic.

As well, Beaumont’s “not for profit” hospitals are community properties and the public has a right to know they are being run by managers who don’t command the trust and respect of the doctors working there. It’s the board’s responsibility to protect the public’s interests, not advance those of the company’s CEO.

Beaumont hospital doctors are represented by the Council of Elected Medical Staff Leaders (CEMSL) whose job it is to communicate the issues and concerns of their colleagues to Beaumont’s board. Each Beaumont hospital has one CEMSL representative, regardless of size or prestige.

Under Wraps

The CEMSL sent a communique to Beaumont’s doctors on Thursday saying that the findings of a survey that more than 1,500 doctors recently completed asking for their views on Beaumont’s management, the Advocate Aurora deal, and other issues was going to be kept under wraps.

“Now that a relationship with our Board of Directors has been established, we feel it is best to resolve this matter internally and not in the media,” the CEMSL said in its communique. That the CEMSL was concerned about the media learning about the survey findings speaks volumes about how damaging they are for Fox and Wilson.

CEMSL leaders bear some responsibility for Beaumont’s implosion and for their admitted delay establishing a meaningful dialogue with the company’s board. The departure of two nationally renowned cardiac surgeons last fall should have been a wake-up call, as should have this article last Dec. 23 from Crain’s Detroit Business detailing pervasive critical issues at Beaumont’s southern hospitals. Crain’s had Zachary Lewis, identified as chairman of Beaumont Trenton’s surgery department, on record as saying, “[Beaumont management] is trying cut costs any way they can – saving money by not hiring nurses – to increase their margins.”

Beaumont COO Carolyn Wilson

Fox’s and Wilson’s cost cutting moves have brought Beaumont to the brink. More than a half-dozen prominent surgeons have resigned or given notice and it’s an open secret that dozens more are actively negotiating to join rival area hospitals or move out of state.

Nearly 40 percent of the more than 70 anesthesiologists at Beaumont Royal Oak and Troy, where the majority of the company’s surgical procedures are performed, have resigned or given notice. A vendor change on Thursday at Beaumont’s Dearborn, Wayne, Trenton and Taylor hospitals could adversely impact the availability of anesthesiologists at those hospitals.

Anesthesiologists are especially critical if the predicted second wave of the coronavirus pandemic hits Michigan in the fall. Covid patients often have to be intubated, a procedure handled entirely by anesthesiologists at Beaumont’s Royal Oak and Troy campuses and almost exclusively at the company’s remaining hospitals.

Shrinking Staff, Surgery Disruptions

Beaumont COO Carolyn Wilson, whose cost cutting moves sparked the exodus of anesthesiologists or jeopardized their ability to continue working at Beaumont hospitals, recently filed a court affidavit informing a judge that patient care would be adversely impacted if the company doesn’t have sufficient anesthesiologists on hand during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, a shortage of staff to sterilize equipment causes extensive delays and cancellations of surgeries at Beaumont’s flagship Royal Oak hospital. Surgeons prefer to complete their procedures by the early afternoon but are being forced to work well into the evening.

Beaumont’s board chair is John Lewis, a former top executive at Comerica, the Detroit bank that in 2007 thumbed its nose at the city and relocated its headquarters to Dallas. Other Beaumont board members include Geoffrey Hockman, owner of a local sporting goods store and interior designer Martha Quay.

Here are the names of the CEMSL leaders representing Beaumont’s doctors who made the decision not to release the survey findings:

Reach Eric Starkman at Beaumont employees and vendors are encouraged to reach out, with confidentiality assured. 

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