Column

Starkman: Why Electing Me Michigan’s AG Would Be Corewell CEO Tina Freese Decker’s Worst Nightmare

March 15, 2024, 1:30 PM

The writer is a Los Angeles freelancer and former Detroit News business reporter. He blogs at StarkmanApproved.com

By Eric Starkman

Everyone has their dream job, and one of mine is getting elected as Michigan’s attorney general. I know that seems a little weird, but I enjoy exposing wrongdoing and calling out questionable corporate behavior. Installing me as Michigan’s top law enforcement officer would be akin to taking a kid to a massive candy store and telling them to knock themselves out.

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“Do Nothing Dana” Nessel, the current occupant of the AG’s office, wouldn’t be my role model but rather legendary Frank J. Kelley, who served in the position for nearly four decades and was the best friend Michigan consumers ever had. I’d hang Kelley’s portrait in my office for inspiration and begin using my middle initial like him for public identification purposes.

Eric M. Starkman sounds more authoritative and threatening.

Assuming I landed the job today, my first order of business would be to haul Tina Freese Decker, CEO of Grand Rapids-based Corewell Health, before a public hearing. I’d call on her to account for what she’s been up to since taking over the former Beaumont Health hospital network two years ago when she was CEO of Spectrum Health. Corewell is the name a California-based branding firm came up with for Spectrum’s and Beaumont’s merged operations, despite the combination being touted as being “For Michigan, By Michigan.”

We don’t have potty mouths here at Deadline Detroit, so apologies Corewell employees for not using the vulgar variation I know you use to refer to your company’s name.

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Tina Freese Decker

Beaumont in its day was a respectable regional healthcare system and its flagship hospital in Royal Oak ranked among the best in the country. A Georgia carpetbagger named John Fox trashed the place and drove away some of Beaumont’s best surgeons and physicians, all the while pocketing more than $40 million for himself in his seven years on the job.

Meanwhile, hundreds of nurses and other professionals were fired to gussy up Beaumont’s financials to make it a more desirable takeover candidate. Fox admitted he shopped Beaumont to about 100 potential suitors and Freese Decker took the bait, a decision I imagine she deeply regrets. Corewell’s Metro Detroit hospitals are fraught with problems, and insiders tell me conditions have deteriorated even further under Freese Decker’s leadership. Indeed, insiders says conditions are worse than when Fox oversaw Metro Detroit’s biggest hospital network.

Fox's $10 Million Parachute

I didn’t think that was possible.

My first question to Freese Decker at the public hearing would be how she determined that Fox was deserving of the $10 million golden parachute the Georgia peach received when he flew the Beaumont coop to tend to the chickens he and his wife care for in the backyard of their Atlanta home, as featured on the Magnolia network last year.  

Fox made in excess of $40 million diminishing patient care at Beaumont’s eight hospitals, while the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, among the world’s best healthcare systems with 23 hospitals and 276 outpatient facilities, made $6.2 million in 2023, after scrimping on $3 million annually for many years.

The Cleveland Clinic’s CEO is a world-renowned surgeon, while Fox was an empty MBA suit, as is Freese Decker. I get that like birds of a feather, empty hospital suits flock together, but Fox’s $10 million goodbye kiss seems excessive. Rest assured I’d be exploring legal ways to claw back some or all of Fox’s payout, and if I couldn’t pull that off, I’d try to find ways to force Freese Decker and her board of ostriches to personally reimburse Corewell for the funds. 

Freese Decker would also have to assure me under oath that $10 million was all that Corewell paid Fox. Dearborn-based Oakwood Healthcare CEO Brian Connolly received at least a $9 million goodbye kiss when he merged his four-hospital system with Beaumont’s and the former Botsford General in 2015, and multiple sources told me he received considerably more. The $9 million paid to Connolly was paid and disclosed over a period of years.

Seems odd that Fox settled for $10 million giving Freese Decker an eight-hospital system with an accumulated reserve he publicly claimed totaled $4 billion.

Speaking of that $4 billion reserve, I’d demand that Freese Decker give an accounting if and where any of the accumulated stash was spent. Corewell has announced major expansion plans in western Michigan, including an $80 million service center on a vacant GM site and market rate housing for its graduate medical education program.

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Ex-Beaumont CEO John Fox

Prior to leaving Beaumont, Fox told employees in a video that Spectrum had big plans for Beaumont and would spend “significant dollars” to embark on a three- to five-year plan to expand the health system’s private bed capacity. Fox said the expansion would involve “a lot of local planning” in terms of where these bed “towers” were located, which suggested to me that some new hospitals would be constructed.

Fox said Beaumont’s hospitals were antiquated because they lacked sufficient private rooms, and that the expansion plans would be finalized by year-end 2022.

Silent Spokesmen

Notably, Henry Ford Health’s New Center expansion plans include building a new hospital with single rooms and then renovating its existing facility for single room patient occupancy.

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Darryl Elmouchi

Mark Geary, Corewell’s PR person, ignores my requests for comment, as does Rob Zeiger, Corewell’s vice president of communications and community relations, and Darryl Elmouchi, who is supposed to be running Corewell’s western Michigan operations but has been ensconced in the Detroit area since last August running the troubled former Beaumont operations on an interim basis. He took over from Ben Schwartz, the hotshot physician and Harvard-trained hospital administrator Freese Decker lured from New York with great fanfare to run them.

Schwartz departed after only 13 months on the job. Given that Elmouchi temporarily replaced Schwartz more than six months ago, it would seem candidates aren’t banging down Corewell’s doors to work for Freese Decker.

I’m an avid reader of Elmouchi’s messages to Corewell’s Metro Detroit employees, and the only mention he’s made of infrastructure investments is replacing the dilapidated elevators at the flagship Royal Oak hospital.

Get this: It’s going to take several years to complete the project. Replacing elevators apparently is a job with lots of ups and downs. 

Crain’s Grand Rapids Press recently reported that Corewell in 2023 racked up nearly $1 billion in profits, of which $822 million came from investment income. As Michigan’s AG, I’d take my responsibility to oversee nonprofits very seriously, and I’d demand that Freese Decker explain how much risk was taken to realize more than $800 million in investment gains. If the stock market had gone south, Corewell could just as easily lost $800 million, a development that would cost Freese Decker and her CFO their jobs under my AG watch.

Sponging Handouts

Corewell chalked up $13.8 billion in total revenues in 2023, yet the hospital company also sponged $106 million in state and federal assistance. While GM CEO Mary Barra earned her MBA from Stanford and Freese Decker got hers from the University of Iowa, it appears both schools have excellent instruction on how to mooch off taxpayers while earning billions in profits.

Barra and Freese Decker also share similar views about what constitutes a corporate headquarters. The Detroit Free Press recently reported that GM has at best only about 1,000 employees at its RenCen headquarters, while Freese Decker claimed that Corewell would have dual headquarters in Grand Rapids and Southfield. As best I can tell, Corewell is run entirely out of Grand Rapids.

At my hearing, Freese Decker would have to account for the membership increase Corewell’s Priority Health insurance arm enjoyed in 2023. Former Beaumont employees were forced to accept Priority’s insurance, which dramatically increased their deductibles and limited their choice of providers. As AG, I wouldn’t allow Corewell to realize big profits off the backs of the beleaguered former Beaumont employees.

I’d also hold Freese Decker to account for Corewell’s three data breaches I’m aware of in the past 12 months, four if you count patients who underwent surgery and had anesthesia performed by Corewell’s outsourcing vendor, whose system also was hacked.

Finally, Corewell’s Detroit area nurses are looking to organize, and I’ve been hearing some rumblings of intimidation. The organizers for Corewell’s nurses would be invited to my hearing to provide assurances that unlike Beaumont, Corewell is rigidly adhering to U.S. labor laws. Taking a page from President Biden, I’d publicly express my admiration for the organizers and stage a photo op of me giving one a hug. Studies show that when nurses unionize, patient safety increases. As Michigan’s AG, patient safety and quality care would be a driving concern and priority.

Admittedly, this is all a pipe dream. I understand the instinctive wariness Michiganders likely have about electing another Canadian after suffering eight years of Jennifer Granholm as governor. Fortunately for Freese Decker Michigan elected Dana Nessel, which means Corewell’s CEO can continue to run Michigan’s biggest hospital system as she damn pleases with no oversight or accountability.

Metro Detroit residents should be alarmed and outraged.

Reach the writer at eric@starkmanapproved.com. Confidentiality and anonymity are assured.



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