The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer, is a former Detroit News business reporter who blogs at Starkman Approved.
By Eric Starkman
The drumbeats have been sounding louder for months, but the cacophony is now at ear-splitting levels: Beaumont CEO John Fox and his COO sidekick Carolyn Wilson must be promptly fired. If they remain, patients at Michigan’s biggest and once nationally respected hospital network will be at risk and continue dying because of their cost-cutting and mismanagement.
Prominent cardiologist Robert Safian is the latest brave Beaumont soul to risk his career and demand Fox’s and Wilson’s removal. In a scathing plea to Beaumont’s board of trustees, Safian minces no words about his intent: “In the coming days, you will learn a lot more…about our doctors, about our corporate leaders, about the Board, and about yourselves. The action-item is clear: corporate leadership must go. All of them. We need your help.”
Safian’s letter was sent after an agreement with a controversial outsourcing firm called NorthStar that Beaumont’s certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) at the Royal Oak, Troy, and Grosse Pointe hospitals reluctantly accepted last week, leaving them deflated. NorthStar used divide-and-conquer tactics, including targeting part timers with threats they would combine their jobs into full-time positions if they didn’t accept a take-it-or-leave it offer. The Texas-based company doesn’t appear to be a champion of work and family balance.
NorthStar, which was awarded a contract to take over anesthesiology services at all Beaumont hospitals except Farmington Hills, let it be known the firm had already recruited CRNA graduates to replace Beaumont’s CRNA veterans, which speaks volumes about its business model and explains how it undercuts the pricing of competitors. Beaumont CRNAs have, on average, about 10 to 20 years of experience supporting advanced surgeries.
The majority of fellowship trained anesthesiologists currently serving Beaumont Royal Oak, Troy, and Grosse Pointe have declined to join NorthStar, despite being offered lucrative signing bonuses. They chose instead to walk out with their heads held high and join world-class hospitals around the country. Physicians familiar with the backgrounds and capabilities of NorthStar’s replacements at Beaumont’s southern hospitals say they aren’t of the caliber of their predecessors.
Indeed, there have been some serious surgical incidents where patient safety was jeopardized. I know of one physician who took early retirement because of one of them. Another physician told me that Beaumont Trenton is no longer safe.
Understandably, Beaumont’s top-tier surgeons at its Royal Oak and Troy hospitals began bolting after Wilson awarded NorthStar its contract. Any surgeon worth their salt has or is in the process of negotiating admitting privileges at other rival hospitals. According to Safian, more than 100 physician-leaders at Royal Oak this year will have relocated outside southeastern Michigan, provided verbal or written intentions to leave Beaumont, or will remain on staff but move substantial portions of their practices to other local institutions.
Exodus of Nurses
Beaumont has also experienced a rash of nurse departures, including more than a dozen with specialized ER skills. The hospital network’s ER staffs are stretched incredibly thin and wait times are dangerous and excessive.
At Beaumont Troy, it can take as long as seven hours to see a doctor and it can take days for a patient requiring admission to be moved upstairs. The pressure on nursing staff is so great that a highly regarded and experienced nurse wigged out one night and sent a hospital system-wide email announcing he resigned because he couldn’t take it anymore.
Beaumont nurses live in constant fear of making errors because their patient caseload is too great. And mistakes are made. A patient at one of Beaumont’s southern hospitals died from a massive blood transfusion he received because of an egregious lab error.
Doctors and nurses have to remain mum about hospital errors because of patient privacy laws, but I’ve heard from several saying they would not take their own families to a Beaumont hospital.
Plenty has been known for months about Beaumont’s deteriorating condition. A survey of Beaumont doctors revealed the majority of them don’t have confidence in Fox and Wilson. Mark Shaevsky, a former Beaumont director and a prominent donor, in September wrote a letter to Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel pleading with her to fire Fox, Wilson, and chief medical director David Wood Jr. because Beaumont was unsafe for patients.
Shaevsky warned Nessel that Beaumont could become “another Flint,” a reference to the nearly 8,000 children in the city permanently harmed by lead poisoning because of Lansing’s failure to protect the local water supply. Nessel subsequently published an op-ed in Crain’s Detroit Business trumpeting how impotent her office is and arguing there wasn’t a lot she can do.
Southeastern Michigan residents should be galled by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s regular network appearances bashing President Trump for his handling of the pandemic. Whitmer should take a brief respite from her camera preening and check out these statistics showing how unprepared Beaumont is under Fox's reign for the second wave of the pandemic that she has repeatedly warned will engulf Michigan.
Here’s a sample: Beaumont has only a 0-6-day supply of PPE surgical masks and gowns. By comparison, Michigan Medicine, U of M’s teaching hospital, has more than a 21-day supply. Fox claimed that Beaumont treated more Covid patients than any other Michigan hospital during the first wave of the pandemic.
Under Whitmer’s watch, Fox temporarily closed Beaumont Wayne at the height of the pandemic, which was a Covid-designated hospital. Channel 7’s Heather Catallo reported that some 50 Covid patients, many on ventilators, were transferred to other hospitals. One of them was listed as unstable for transfer. Crickets from Whitmer and Nessel.
Fox manages to survive because Beaumont’s corporate board is comprised mostly of dilettantes whose credentials are so lacking the company doesn’t include their bios. The chair is John Lewis, a former top executive at Comerica, the Detroit bank that abandoned the city in 2007 and relocated its headquarters to Dallas.
As I’ve written, states with responsible political leaders like Ohio who regard maintaining quality hospitals among their primary responsibilities wouldn’t allow Fox and Wilson to remain in their jobs. Two Michigan state troopers should be promptly dispatched: one to take Fox to Metro airport and put him on the first plane to Atlanta or North Carolina where he has luxury homes and one to drive Wilson to her primary residence in Grand Rapids.
Fox and Wilson have inflicted too much damage on southeastern Michigan and caused considerable harm to Beaumont’s 38,000 employees. The failed executives must be immediately fired for cause and an independent investigation needs to be launched examining Beaumont’s spending and finances.
Beaumont’s management has been operating without professional and regulatory oversight for far too long.
Reach Eric Starkman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Beaumont employees and vendors are encouraged to reach out, with confidentiality assured. Also, if you wish to support Deadline Detroit's independent journalism please sign up for a $3 a month membership or a one-time donation.
Columns by this writer:
- Starkman: Prominent Beaumont Cardiologist Calls for Ouster of Corporate Leaders
- The Clueless ‘Generosity’ 0f Beaumont CEO John Fox
- Beaumont's Bonuses and the Sorry State of Michigan's Political Leadership
- The Controversial Company Beaumont CEO John Fox Keeps
- Beaumont Chief John Fox to Detroit-Area Children -- FU Too
- The Beaumont Health Superheroes Who Spoke Truth to Power
- The Discredited PR Spin of Beaumont Health CEO John Fox
- Beaumont and Advocate Aurora End Merger Discussions
- Prominent Beaumont Donor Calls for Firing of CEO John Fox and His Key Executives