Starkman: My Dream Team to Save and Restore Beaumont to its Former Glory

May 31, 2021, 10:00 PM

Photo: Top (from leftr) Mark Shaevsky, James Grant, Sally Gribben, Joe Mullany. Bottom: Gregory Bock, Simon Dixon, Zachary Lewis,  Patrick Wiater. (Not pictured: Aaron Berman)

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

By Eric Starkman

Southeastern Michigan residents have run out of time to decide whether they want to allow Beaumont Health CEO John Fox and COO Carolyn Wilson to continue pocketing millions of undeserved compensation while driving Michigan’s biggest hospital network into the ground.

Beaumont has so badly deteriorated that Fox and Wilson may soon be irreplaceable because there is no senior management left to run the place.  The company has been without a chief marketing officer since last September, its CFO left in March, its chief of compliance left last Thursday, and its head of revenue generation is leaving in two weeks.

Beaumont has but two senior executives left with demonstrated competence at their jobs: Susan Grant, executive vice president and chief nursing officer and Jane Jordan, senior vice president and general counsel. Their primary homes are in Atlanta and they joined Beaumont from Emory Healthcare, where Fox used to work. Given that Fox’s other handpicked lieutenants have bailed, it’s unwise to assume Grant and Jordan will stick around.

John Fox and Carolyn Wilson

If Beaumont were headquartered in California, Ohio, or in other states with attorney generals that regard ensuring quality and equitable healthcare among their critical responsibilities, Fox, Wilson, and most, if not all, of Beaumont’s board would have been removed long ago.

Michigan AG Dana Nessel has done nothing to stave Beaumont’s implosion, not surprising since she’s done nothing to curb Michigan’s rampant elder guardian abuse or investigate credible evidence that Michigan’s nursing home Covid deaths were dramatically undercounted.

Healthcare isn’t Nessel’s thing.

Michigan Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Debbie Dingell, and Andy Levin, whose congressional districts are where Beaumont’s flailing hospitals are located, also have failed their constituents by standing idly by and allowing Beaumont to deteriorate.

The Mystery in Executive Row

Everyone in town knows that Fox and Wilson, along with chief medical officer David Wood Jr., should be fired for poor performance. The question I’m most frequently asked is “What does John Fox have on [Beaumont board chair] John Lewis?"

A likely answer was buried in this Crain’s Detroit Business story last December citing anonymous sources who said Lewis told them not to bother to send him emails criticizing Fox because he wouldn’t read them. “[Fox] has done everything the board hired him to do. Increase profits and quality," Lewis allegedly said privately.

If that’s the case, Lewis should have the courage to step up to the plate and defend Fox publicly. 

Julie Fream

Beaumont issued a statement signed by vice chairs Julie Fream and Stephen Howard denying that Lewis said he wouldn’t read critical emails about Fox. Unless Fream and Howard accompanied Lewis 24/7, they weren’t privy to his conversations with others. As I’ve previously written, Beaumont skates very close to the line when it comes to telling the truth.

Fream, who is president and CEO of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, on Tuesday takes over as Beaumont chair, succeeding Lewis who will retire from the board in December. So far, there is no reason to believe that Fream will step up and orchestrate the deserved removal of Fox, Wilson and Wood.

If the executives remain in place, Beaumont will continue to deteriorate, quite possibly to the point where merging it into another institution will be the hospital company’s only salvation. Even if it gets to that point, there's little chance it will ever return to its glory days. 

Here’s an alternative solution.

Petition for Board's Resignation

Beaumont’s board is weak, so much so the company is ashamed to list the credentials of most of the directors. Here’s Beaumont's list of company directors; except for John Lewis, no bios are listed. As but one example, I can’t find any background professional information on director Martha Quay, except that she appears to be an interior designer.

Here’s Henry Ford Hospital's list of its directors and the companies and organizations they are associated with.

A petition calling for the resignation of Beaumont’s entire board should be organized and signed by local business leaders and donors committed to saving the hospital company. The mere threat of a petition might be all it takes to motivate Beaumont’s board to fire Fox, Wilson, and Wood.

If the board stands firm, publish a commentary in Crain’s Detroit Business calling for the firing of Fox, Wilson, and Wood and the resignation of the entire board. Just a hunch, but I doubt Fream wants to have her judgment publicly questioned nor does the Original Equipment Suppliers Association want its name associated with an imploding hospital.

Committee to Save Beaumont Health

The reputation damage Fox, Wilson, and Wood have caused Beaumont is extensive and it will require a great team of committed leaders to staunch the carnage. Here’s my proposed Dream Team for the Committee to Save Beaumont Health.

Mark Shaevsky, Chairman

Shaesvsky is an accomplished lawyer and donor who served on Beaumont’s board before it merged with Oakwood and Botsford hospitals. He wrote a passionate letter to Nessel warning her about Beaumont’s decline, but the AG ignored his pleas.

Shaevsky’s letter made clear that he’s been closely following developments at Beaumont, so he can hit the ground running.

James Grant, Vice Chairman

Grant is an A-lister doctor. He previously was head of anesthesiology at Beaumont and resigned in May 2019 to join Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, ranked one of the top hospitals in the country. He also served as president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Grant returned to Michigan in September of last year to become Chief Medical Officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Grant also has an MBA, so he has business training as well.

It’s in Blue Cross’ interest to see Beaumont prosper and thrive.

Admittedly, having a top Blue Cross doctor on Beaumont’s rescue team is an inherent conflict of interest. But rescuing Beaumont is a special situation and Grant’s role would be to find talent to stabilize the institution, not run it or get involved in pricing or other profit initiatives. Moreover, hospital CEOs sit on the boards of group purchasing organizations, which strikes me as more egregious conflicts. 

Joe Mullany, Former CEO of Detroit Medical Center

Mullany’s name often surfaces as Fox’s potential replacement. While he might not be interested in taking the job, his background and experience would be critical in righting Beaumont. Among Mullany’s strengths was he was well liked by his staff, so he’s got the personality to convince remaining Beaumont employees to stick around while attracting top-notch talent.

Gregory Bock, CEO of Anesthesia Associates of Ann Arbor

Bock’s A4 previously provided the anesthesiology services to Beaumont’s Dearborn, Taylor, Trenton, and Wayne hospitals, but Wilson blew the company out after NorthStar Anesthesia, Beaumont’s current outsourcing provider, proposed a more lucrative solution involving less reliance on anesthesiologists.

Bock was previously president of what is now Beaumont Dearborn. He knows Beaumont’s southern hospitals, which have poor quality ratings. 

Simon Dixon and Aaron Berman, Beaumont RO Cardiology Heads

Drs. Dixon and Berman last September sounded the alarm about NorthStar Anesthesia, warning chair Lewis they had “serious concerns” about the outsourcing company. Sadly, their worst fears were realized within three weeks of NorthStar taking over, with one colonoscopy patient dying from intubation complications and another patient landing in the ICU because of a pain medication overdose.

Beaumont’s once nationally ranked cardiology department has taken a big hit, through no fault of Dixon and Berman. Their letter to Lewis demonstrated an unwavering commitment to patient safety, an institutional mindset Beaumont quickly needs to restore.

Zachary Lewis, Trenton Surgeon

Lewis was previously head of surgery at Beaumont Trenton, but his current Beaumont bio only lists him as a surgeon. If Lewis stepped down as surgery chief, one possible reason was this December 2019 interview in Crain’s saying on the record that Beaumont was more focused on profit margins than providing adequate staffing and resources. Lewis took extraordinary measures to fix things, but he was ignored.

Patrick Wiater, Orthopedic Surgeon

Beaumont’s orthopedics department was ranked 11th best in the country by U.S. News, but under Fox’s leadership surgeons have opted to do more of their procedures at area ambulatory centers or other hospitals. Getting them to return to Beaumont will be no mean feat.

Wiater’s father is an orthopedic surgeon at Beaumont, and so are his brothers Brett and Michael. His sister is Bridgett is a Beaumont radiologist

As far as I’m concerned, a Wiater family member should be named to Beaumont’s board of directors.

Sally Gribben, Beaumont Nurse Anesthetist Union Head

Beaumont’s nurse anesthetists for years have been clamoring for a seat at the proverbial table but were ignored. As a result, they voted to unionize this year by an overwhelming margin. As they play a critical role in Beaumont’s lucrative surgery business, their input and insights should be valued and respected.

Terminate NorthStar Contract

As many Beaumont surgeons and anesthesiologists warned, outsourcing anesthesia to NorthStar has been a disaster. The scuttlebutt around the hospital is NorthStar’s contract is being renegotiated, but I’m not clear at whose initiative. Regardless, NorthStar might welcome being giving an out, as its Beaumont contract has generated a slew of bad publicity.

With NorthStar gone, every effort should be made to lure the return of the Beaumont anesthesiologists who resigned last year. Many have been gone for less than a year, and with the proper incentives, they possibly would entertain returning to their old jobs.

Bring Back Marc Sakwa

Dr. Marc Sakwa

It’s a truism in HR that the best people always are the first to leave a troubled organization. The departure of Marc Sakwa proves the point.

Sakwa is a nationally renowned surgeon who was respected by his colleagues, loved by his patients, and was responsible for attracting donors and substantial donations to Beaumont. He left in December 2019 because of dissatisfaction with Fox and the direction the CEO was taking Beaumont.

I’m told that Sakwa has moved on, but he still has considerable family and friends in the Detroit area. Luring him back to Beaumont would be a coup of unimaginable proportions.

I recommend launching an aggressive campaign to bring Sakwa back. Take out billboards around town screaming, “Dr. Sakwa – Your Home is Here” and start a letter writing campaign. Offer to rename Beaumont the Sakwa Clinic if that’s what it takes. I’ll bet donors would commit to meaningful donations as a condition to Sakwa returning.

Perhaps my ideas are a pipe dream or off-base. But of this I’m certain: If Fox, Wilson and Wood are allowed to remain for much longer, Beaumont’s former reputation as a top-tier hospital will quickly become a very distant memory.

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

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