Starkman: Beaumont Forces Suspension of Leader of Nurse Anesthetist Union Drive

March 18, 2021, 10:16 PM

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

By Eric Starkman

Sally Gribben (Photo: Facebook)

Michigan Congressman Andy Levin, whose district includes Beaumont Health’s flagship Royal Oak hospital, fashions himself as a champion of unions. Beaumont CEO John Fox and COO Carolyn Wilson apparently don’t believe there’s much bite to his union bark.

In fact, there's not even a bark about about Beaumont's labor strife. 

Sally Gribben, the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist leading the effort to unionize CRNAs working at Beaumont’s Royal Oak, Troy and Grosse Pointe hospitals, was escorted mid-morning Thursday from Beaumont’s flagship hospital and put on paid administrative leave. Christina Stevens, vice president of CRNA Services at NorthStar Anesthesia, served as Gribben’s chaperone.

The decision to put Gribben on administrative leave came from Beaumont, according to multiple sources.

Thrown Under Bus

Gribben was among the 180 CRNAs Wilson threw under the bus when she outsourced Beaumont’s anesthesia functions to a controversial Texas-based outsourcing firm called NorthStar Anesthesia. Within three weeks of NorthStar taking over at Royal Oak in January, a patient died from intubation complications while undergoing a routine colonoscopy and another patient landed in the ICU because of an overdose of pain medication.

Christina Stevens

Gribben’s violation was ostensibly for accessing the medical records of the patient who received the pain medication overdose. But multiple sources say Gribben had good reason to access those records because she was initially asked to provide backup assistance in the area of the hospital where the incident happened.

Asked to comment on Gribben’s suspension, NorthStar spokeswoman Elizabeth Squires issued this statement:

“Keeping health information confidential is not only required under the federal health privacy law, HIPAA, but also critical to the trust patients place in their care providers. At NorthStar, we take compliance with HIPAA seriously and have strict procedures in place to protect patient health information, including training, monitoring and enforcement of our policies. If NorthStar receives a report that patient information may have been accessed or disclosed unlawfully, it is our policy to work with our hospital partner to investigate whether there was any improper access to patient records."

Beaumont spokesman Mark Geary ignored a request for comment.

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Beaumont’s medical staff has few kind words to say about Texas-based NorthStar, but surprisingly Stevens, the executive who escorted Gribben from the hospital, is popular. According to her LinkedIn profile, Stevens lives in Detroit and received her undergraduate nursing degree from Northern Michigan University. She received her CRNA degree from DePaul University.

Suspending Gribben in the midst of her leading a union drive underscores how little Fox and Wilson care about optics or public opinion. Beaumont last year spent nearly $2 million on a union-busting effort so successful that the Michigan Nurses Association publicly declared it wouldn’t ever again dare try to “officially” organize hospital workers because of management’s “climate of fear.”

Gribben, who is in her early 30s, is popular and respected among Beaumont’s medical staff. In addition to working on cases, Gribben also is responsible for scheduling CRNAs, an unenviable and stressful job because Beaumont is short about 30 nurse anesthetists.

Gribben is openly lesbian and married with two children. AFL-CIO President in 2018 declared that “for many LGBTQ Americans, a union card is their only form of employment protection.”

Congressman Andy Levin

Although Beaumont Royal Oak is in Andy Levin’s district, he has yet to voice any public support for Beaumont’s CRNAs. Instead, he’s led a congressional Democratic effort to support Amazon workers in Alabama who are trying to unionize. Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib, whose districts are served by Beaumont Wayne and Trenton hospitals, also have supported that effort.

Levin knows how to wield power when he wants to.

Levin last year announced he would move to block plans to merge Beaumont into Illinois-based Advocate Aurora, which may have been responsible for Fox walking away from the controversial deal. But Levin stopped short of calling for the firing of Fox and Wilson, whose aggressive cost cutting was responsible for Beaumont’s implosion.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who was unanimously endorsed by the UAW,  promotes herself as a union supporter. "Democratic majorities are essential to Michigan regaining its status as a state which supports workers and their families," she tweeted in 2019. Nessel has voiced support for LGBTQIA worker protections. She is openly lesbian and married with two children.

No Faith in Top Management

Nessel has some oversight of Beaumont because of the company’s supposed nonprofit status, its $3.5-billion reserve notwithstanding. However, she has yet to voice any public concerns about Beaumont’s implosion, which last year resulted in the loss of more than a dozen prominent surgeons, about half the anesthesiology staff at Beaumont Royal Oak, 50 CRNAs, and countless nurses.

There is no higher calling for an attorney general than protecting the lives of residents.

A survey last year revealed that a majority of Beaumont’s medical staff had no confidence in Fox, Wilson, and Chief Medical Officer David Wood Jr.

Beaumont is experiencing a rash of surgery cancellations as word is getting around about the reputation of NorthStar, known in the industry as "Death Star." 

Dr. Anthony Stallion

Anthony Stallion, chief of pediatric surgery at Beaumont Children’s in Royal Oak, sent a letter to Beaumont doctors Thursday morning assuring them “our anesthesiologists and CRNAs are well trained.”

My understanding is that University of Michigan’s teaching hospital and the Cleveland Clinic, both top-ranked in the country, have seen a surge of patients who prior to NorthStar’s arrival would have gone to Beaumont for treatment.

As for NorthStar’s stated concerns for patient privacy, I'm told the outsourcing firm offered jobs in Toledo to a former Beaumont anesthesiologist and two CRNAs who improperly accessed the medical file of the patient who died of a colonoscopy.

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

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