The Detroit News recounted the serious rift that has developed between Detroit Medical Center (DMC), a large, up to know academic medical center that also served many poor people in Detroit, and Wayne State University's medical school.
A bitter contract dispute between Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center is coming to a head, threatening the survival of medical programs that care for the region's needy and serve as a crucial training ground for Michigan doctors.Why are these two partners at odds?
The nation's largest medical school and the eight-hospital system are entrenched in a years-long battle over terms of contracts that bind the institutions as a medical school and teaching hospital.
The national body that accredits graduate medical programs, effectively deciding whether they can operate, has caught wind of the troubles in Detroit and is giving the two sides until Oct. 1 to report on where they stand.
Without approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, Wayne State and the DMC face losing nearly 1,000 medical residents and hundreds of faculty physicians who make up the core of programs that treat the city's poor and uninsured and train hundreds of doctors a year.
Wayne State says the DMC's increasing focus on the bottom line conflicts with the medical school's focus on research and community care. The DMC says the medical school is abandoning Detroit by looking to set up operations in the suburbs and forming alliances with hospitals that compete with the DMC.There is other evidence that underlying this dispute the discordance between the medical school's professional and academic mission and the business orientation of the hospital's new leadership.
Already, the fight has cost the region an orthopedic residency program, forcing 24 DMC residents to find new hospitals in which to finish their education. The accreditation council has asked for the voluntary withdrawal of the cardiothoracic surgery residency, because of similar squabbling. WSU wanted to team with Oakwood Health System because it performs more surgeries in that field; the DMC objected.
[Wayne State School of Medicine Dean Robert] Mentzer said the DMC, in its efforts to remain profitable, is moving away from programs that cater to community and research needs.
The medical school, for example, wants an emphasis on family medicine, urology and dermatology. The DMC, meanwhile, is looking to carve out a niche as a heart hospital, of which there are several in the area, he said.
'When a hospital system develops a business strategy that is no longer consistent with our mission, we have to re-evaluate,' Mentzer said.
He said WSU has looked to partner with other hospitals to help meet the medical school's needs.
That has irritated Duggan and the DMC and resulted in disputes over contracts. Mentzer said he has submitted a proposal to Duggan that would include no pay increase to Wayne State despite higher operating costs at the medical school.
[Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike] Duggan has said Wayne State's efforts to pair with other hospitals threaten to create competition with the DMC for business, compromising the health system's ability to stay in the black. The DMC has just begun to make money under Duggan after years of multimillion-dollar losses and a $50 million bailout by the state.
The dispute over the orthopedics residency program, which seemed to touch off the larger conflict, ensued when DMC canceled the program (see this article in Crain's Detroit Business) after (see this April 1, 2006 Detroit Free Press article) the medical school would not accede to DMC CEO Duggan's wish to redirect the clinical focus of the program.
Duggan wanted to build a stronger sports medicine component within the program, but some doctors feared it would be at the expense of care for poor people.And what made Mike Duggan an expert on the need for specific kinds of orthopedic services? That's a good question.
It turns out that Duggan came to his job as CEO of DMC with no direct health care experience, and no experience managing a health care organization. He is the former Prosecutor for Wayne County (Michigan). In a profile in Modern Health Care we see the thinking that lead to his appointment.
In December 2003, as Duggan was preparing to run for re-election as county prosecutor, DMC Board Chairman Chuck O'Brien asked him to interview with the board's search committee....I guess I should no longer be amazed that business people and lawyers think that they can pick up all they need to know about health care by developing a quick understanding of "the terminology" and by being "smart, creative, and hard-working." To think of all those years I wasted in medical school, internship, residency, and fellowship.
O'Brien, president and owner of Emerald Steel Processing, says Duggan has proved he's able to lead large, complex organizations.
'He has excellent skills and a superb understanding of where the bottom line is.'
Duggan conceded that just because he's never operated a hospital before or studied healthcare administration, it doesn't mean he doesn't know healthcare.
'I helped start Wayne County's HealthChoice program, an award-winning health plan that we built from scratch. So it wasn't like the terminology was a great mystery to me. And I've dealt extensively in my other jobs with all of the major local (healthcare) players.'
Roger Quick, a partner in the executive search firm Quick Leonard Kieffer, who led the search for Porter's replacement, characterizes Duggan as an unconventional candidate. 'I won't pretend that Mike's lack of hospital administrative experience didn't come up. People thought and talked about it. But ultimately the board saw it as a plus that he came from outside of the industry. If you're smart, creative and hard-working, you can learn the industry.'
How much a lawyer learning about health care on the job really understands about health care is one question. How much such a person internalizes health care's values is another.
The incipient split between two once-proud health care institutions, to the apparent detriment of both, is more evidence that health care is too important not to be put back into the hands of health care professionals.
If the split occurs, the lawyers and businesspeople will quickly find new pursuits. But who will take care of the patients if the medical center suddenly loses most of its doctors?