Health

Starkman: Beaumont CEO John Fox -- The Donald Trump of U.S. Healthcare

November 17, 2020, 10:13 PM

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

By Eric Starkman

Featured_trump-fox_45927
Trump and Fox: Two peas in a pod?

Politicians lie and deceive. Donald Trump’s disciples know that, which is why they aren’t bothered by the president’s litany of deceptions and misstatements these past four years. As Trump noted, he could shoot someone on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and his followers would remain loyal.

Beaumont CEO John Fox is the Donald Trump of U.S. healthcare. He routinely says things that are untrue and misleading. So does Mark Geary, Fox’s corporate mouthpiece, who I liken to Sean Spicer, Trump’s combative first press secretary, forever remembered for his bogus comments. Fox could shoot someone on Woodward Avenue and indications are Beaumont’s board would continue to stick by him. Geary would issue a news release defending the shooting. 

The brazenness of Fox’s dishonesty was apparent in a Crain’s Detroit Business story the publication posted late Monday about Beaumont cardiologist Robert Safian’s letter calling on Fox and his deputies to be fired, which Deadline Detroit reported on Saturday. 

Crain’s reported that Fox denied Beaumont was hiring lower-quality anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) to replace the elite team of medical professionals currently working at Beaumont’s legacy Royal Oak, Troy and Grosse Pointe facilities where the majority of surgeries are performed.

"Our percentage of fellowship trained anesthesiologists will actually be greater going forward than it has ever been in the past. Areas of fellowship subspecialty training that are important for us to maintain and frankly grow include cardiac, pediatrics and critical care," Fox said in a statement given to Crain’s.

Fox declaring that the Beaumont’s anesthesiology staff is going to improve is beyond the pale. Virtually all of the anesthesiologists who until recently worked at Beaumont’s legacy hospitals have been fellowship trained, meaning they have more specialized skills to participate in complicated surgeries like liver transplants and heart valve replacements. The majority of them resigned rather than join NorthStar Anesthesia, the Texas-based outsourcing firm that COO Carolyn Wilson awarded earlier this year to take over anesthesiology services at all Beaumont hospitals, except Farmington Hills.

Concerns about NorthStar’s standards are so dire that the heads of Royal Oak’s cardiology department sent a letter to the chair of Beaumont’s board saying they had no confidence in the outsourcing firm. Underscoring their lack of faith and trust in NorthStar, Beaumont’s more than 200 legacy hospital CRNAs insisted on a provision that allows them to cancel their contracts with 90-days-notice if they agreed to join the company.

In yet another blow to Beaumont’s battered surgical business, Jeff Sullivan, director of business operations for surgical services at Beaumont Royal Oak, has joined Henry Ford Health. Sullivan is a big-time guy in his professional space.

Fox’s false claim about enhancing anesthesiology capabilities isn’t a one-off. Here are nine more examples of Fox and Geary issuing false or deceptive statements.

No Truth to Merger Rumors

In a March 18, 2019 “CEO Update” to employees, Fox made this statement:

“I visit a lot of employees, physicians and others on a regular basis, and they often share a number of the latest rumors with me…One of those rumors is that our leadership restructuring was preparing some or all of Beaumont health to be sold. That surprised me, since there have been no discussions or consideration to doing this. In many respects, Beaumont is too big to be sold to anyone else in our market. Anyway, you can relax about that one, it is not true.”

When Fox announced plans to merge Beaumont into Advocate Aurora, he disclosed that he had entertained more than 100 merger combinations before deciding on the Chicago-based firm. While the 100 number probably wasn’t true either, it does show that he likely was actively looking for a Beaumont merger partner when he categorically denied a merger of any sort was possible.

'I Am Not a Fan of Outsourcing'

From the same March 18, 2019 memo:

“Another rumor is that we are going to be outsourcing some roles. Again, there is nothing on the table or any discussion around this…I am not a fan of outsourcing in general, as it usually does not work.”

Wilson’s deal with NorthStar is a "bet-the-farm" outsourcing transaction. So far Beaumont appears on the losing side of the bet --  a bet that Fox assured employees he wouldn't wager. 

Russian Connections and Secret Payments

On a Zoom call with Royal Oak physicians last July, Fox said there was a “deceptive intent” to my critical coverage of Beaumont and suggested I possibly had secret ties to Russia. “Somebody is paying this guy,” Fox said, indicating I was being compensated from a secret source other than Deadline Detroit.

I previously addressed this slander.

“We Worked with the State of Michigan to Transfer Patients…”

Channel 7’s Heather Catallo in May reported that Beaumont transferred a Covid patient on a ventilator listed unfit for transport to a VA hospital. The patient died in transit.  

Spokesman Geary issued a statement saying: “We worked with the state of Michigan to transfer patients to other health systems that had capacity and resources,” implying Lansing played a role in the transfer.

Catallo reached out to Governor Whitmer’s office, which issued this statement: “Facility-to-facility transfers occur at the agreement of the chief medical officers of both entities.”

Vice Chair Stephen Howard Unavailable for Media Interviews

Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Jay Greene noted in September that he had repeatedly requested interviews with Beaumont board members but was denied by the company’s “media relations,” which presumably meant Geary. Greene said he was advised that Lewis and his colleagues didn’t want to talk to the media.

Greene reached out to Vice Chair Stephen Howard on his own, and wouldn’t you know it, Howard talked up a storm, albeit via text message.

Howard disclosed that he didn’t regularly monitor Beaumont’s critical media coverage, a telling admission about the degree of his ongoing oversight. Howard is an avid handball player and working on his backhand is seemingly more important.

‘Money-Hungry Doctors’

Fox has repeatedly been quoted as saying dissatisfaction about a cut in reimbursement payments is responsible for much of the discontent of Beaumont doctors. In fact, the biggest reason relates to cost-cutting and other decisions by Fox, Wilson, and chief medical officer David Wood, Jr. doctors say have harmed patient care.

Indeed, when surgeons cornered Fox during his recent visit to Royal Oak’s surgical suites they weren’t yelling, “show us the money.” Their outrage related to surgeries being cancelled or delayed because of a shortage of surgical instruments, scrubs, and other tools of their trade.

Covid Pandemic Killed Advocate Aurora Deal

Fox told reporters the Advocate Aurora deal collapsed because the pandemic made it too difficult to do the due diligence required. A spokesman for Advocate Aurora said the deal fell through because of Beaumont’s “internal issues.”

Given Fox’s tenuous relationship with truth, it’s a safe bet to believe Advocate Aurora.

'Beaumont is Proud of Our Strong Pediatrics Program'

Referring to Beaumont’s pediatric program as “strong” is one of Geary’s biggest whoppers. Beaumont fired its nationally respected pediatrics department head after he objected to cuts that he said would harm patient care. Kelly Levasseur, who headed Beaumont’s emergency pediatrics and is also nationally ranked, quit in September.

Beaumont earlier this year closed down its pediatric neurosurgery clinic, which catered to minorities and economically disadvantaged families. It also closed the pediatric unit at its Farmington Hills facility about a year ago.

'You Are All Important Members of the Team'


Mark Geary and Sean Spicer

That’s what Fox told employees in a memo informing them they were getting a $1,000 bonus and some other enhanced benefits. The bonus isn’t a gesture of appreciation, but rather a lame bribe attempt to staunch the escalating exodus of experienced employees. Working at Beaumont for many people is a living hell, and no one wants to work there as long as Fox, Wilson, and Wood remain.

Fox has another commonality with Trump – he doesn’t know when his time is up. Fox is almost universally despised among Beaumont’s employees, he has no credibility and commands no respect. If Fox remains, more serious patient incidents are inevitable, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or Attorney General Dana Nessel eventually will have to act and instigate Fox’s removal.

As for Geary, perhaps he can join Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Reach Eric Starkman at eric@starkmanapproved.com. 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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Beautiful winter sunset over Northwest Detroit.

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