Starkman: Henry Ford's Wright Lassiter Puts Beaumont's John Fox to Shame

December 13, 2020, 6:38 PM

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

By Eric Starkman

In the six months I’ve been writing damning stories about Beaumont Health CEO John Fox and his despicable deputies COO Carolyn Wilson, chief medical officer David Wood Jr., CFO John Kerndl and chief bill collector Denise Waters, a question has been nagging: How is it that I know nothing about the CEO of rival Henry Ford Health and its management?

Wright Lassiter III, left. and John Fox

Countless Beaumont employees have contacted me to warn about unsafe conditions and other issues at Michigan’s biggest and once-premier hospital network. I’ve heard nary a peep from anyone at Henry Ford.

A Dec. 3 Detroit News article, which I just discovered, answers my question.

Henry Ford’s CEO is Wright Lassiter III, who holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry and was smart enough to get into medical school but instead pursued a career in health care administration. The News story is full of other impressive details about Lassiter, but this one really stood out: He previously served as CEO of Alameda Health System in Oakland, California.

You have to be good at your job to remain CEO of Alameda Health System. Unlike Beaumont’s pathetic board led by former Comerica executive John Lewis, Alameda Health’s overseers take their responsibilities seriously and won’t allow a CEO to remain in his job if he doesn’t command the respect of hospital staff and treat them fairly.

I know this because a few weeks ago the Alameda County Board of Supervisors forced out CEO Delvecchio Finley and replaced most of the hospital’s board of trustees because of labor strife at Alameda Health. Finley was Lassiter’s replacement.

No Confidence at Beaumont

Alameda Health is a county hospital, which is why the elected board of supervisors have the authority to remove hospital trustees. When it comes to health care, California’s elected officials, unlike Michigan’s, don’t tolerate wrongdoing or questionable behavior.  California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last year garnered a landmark $575-million settlement from a major hospital network for overcharging state residents.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

I’m skeptical Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has the resolve to take on Michigan’s powerful hospital interests, particularly since Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s father for decades was among them. Nessel shamefully approved the sale of Beaumont’s nonprofit ambulance company to a for-profit Chicago-based outfit, and she’s done nothing to staunch Beaumont’s implosion. Nessel prefers to focus her energies on railing about the devastating impact of “Merry Christmas” greetings

According to this report in the San Francisco Business Times, one of the best local business publications in the country, Lassiter was credited with “engineering a major fiscal turnaround.” Problems with a billing system later set the hospital back, but Lassiter said that had nothing to do with his reason to resign and join Henry Ford.

Joining Henry Ford was a major promotion for Lassiter. By comparison, Fox was previously CEO of Emory Healthcare, affiliated with one of the top medical schools in the country. Joining Beaumont was a step down; I can find no stories or mentions of Fox accomplishing anything of note at Emory.

No 'Yes' People

Lassiter, who joined Henry Ford in 2016 and was named CEO two years later, doesn’t want to surround himself with ‘yes’ people.

"Oftentimes when you’re the CEO, people think I’ll just tell him or her what they want to hear," he said. "My view is no — I don’t have the luxury to see what you’re seeing, you’re closer to the ground than I am," he told the News’ Karen Bouffard.

Fox and his deputies not only want ‘yes’ people, they’ll fire and publicly humiliate anyone who challenges them. Beaumont Royal Oak’s head of pediatrics was fired earlier this year and escorted from the hospital in front of his staff after protesting cutbacks he said would harm patient care. When a doctor protested the firing, that doctor was fired as well.

Fox in media interviews rails about how the pandemic has harmed Beaumont’s surgery business and profit margins. Lassiter views it as a time for corporate soul-searching.

The pandemic, he told The News, “was a time to reflect on who Henry Ford was, and what is important to us as an organization…and has caused us to ask ourselves the question of can we do more and should our expectations of ourselves as an organization be higher.”

Beaumont employees familiar with Henry Ford’s HR practices repeatedly have told me the Detroit-based health care network “treats its employees like royalty.”

It’s clear the compassion comes from the top.

Reach Eric Starkman at 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.

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