DMC offers to resume talks with WSU physician group

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The Detroit Medical Center has offered to resume contract talks with the Wayne State University Physician Group after a war of words that followed a breakoff of discussions this week.

In an email Thursday to Jack Sobel, dean of the Wayne State University School of Medicine, DMC senior vice president Roger Wiseman said hospital officials “stand ready to meet on any date and at any time in order to complete this negotiation so that we can begin the process that is so very important to both of our organizations.

“Since our values are virtually the same, we would like the parties to come back to the negotiation table ... so we can renew the contracts and continue to take care of patients,” Wiseman wrote.

A spokesman for the WSU physician group said the DMC, owned by Tenet Healthcare Corporation, asked to resume talks, and the physician group is amenable to that.

“We never wanted negotiations to stop in the first place,” said the spokesman, Philip Van Hulle. “We were surprised when they walked out.”

Van Hulle said the two sides need to iron out details about how the negotiations will restart.

DMC President Joseph Mullany said they would have never left the negotiating table but Lisa Keane, president and chief operating officer of the WSU Physician Group, was there and indicated she did not have authority to negotiate a provision on a nonsolicitation clause that the physician group had proposed.

“If they had put someone who had authority to negotiate, we would have never left that day and we would have continued to negotiate,” Mullany said in an interview Thursday.

In an email to the medical school faculty on Wednesday, Sobel said the breakdown in talks stemmed from the nonsolicitation clause — which prohibits both parties from soliciting the services of the other’s employees for a specified time. WSU officials added that the provision is already in the current contract, and common in health care administration.

But the proposed clause is much stricter than the current language, Mullany said.

Currently, the clause does not allow the DMC to directly solicit one of the physician group doctors, Mullany said. The hospital can post jobs, and if a doctor in the physician group applies, it is that person’s choice.

But the physician group’s clause would go further by not allowing the DMC to a physician group doctor, regardless of need, for the 18 months of the proposed contract, plus 24 months after the deal expires, said Dr. Suzanne White, DMC chief medical officer and executive vice president.

There are many situations where that proposed provision could create a gap in care, White said.

She gave this example: If a physician group doctor was working on a research trial involving cancer but was fired by Wayne State, that could jeopardize the care of patients undergoing treatment if the DMC was barred from reaching out to that newly unemployed doctor.

“I would have patients who have care that are not only high-risk but high-opportunity that’s interrupted and no ability to secure that key researcher in an employment agreement to stabilize the situation,” White said.

Mullany added that the DMC is pushing back on the physician group’s proposed clause to protect the continuity of the hospital’s research mission, resident education and physician-patient relationships.

The two sides have been in contentious discussions aimed at replacing a pact that expires Sept. 30.

Following a negotiation session Tuesday, Sobel told faculty in an email Wednesday that Tenet Healthcare Corp., owner of the DMC, had ended talks over the issue of nonsolicitation of physician group doctors.

Sobel said the physician group — which represents 400 Wayne State faculty who teach medical students — had successfully negotiated with the DMC on “a number of issues,” including finances.

But according to Sobel, hospital officials pulled out of discussions over a proposed nonsolicitation agreement — . Officials with the University Physician Group say their current contract with the DMC includes such language and argue it’s necessary to protects their physicians from being poached by the DMC or other employers.

DMC officials, for their part, said they thought talks were at an impasse, not terminated. They issued a statement blaming the physician group for the break in talks and the lack of an agreement, saying the nonsolicitation issue was a late demand.

A failure to reach a deal between the two entities this month could have wide-ranging impacts on health care in Metro Detroit. The DMC is the region’s largest hospital system, with 3,000 affiliated physicians.

The physician group — which represents WSU doctors in fields such as family medicine, neurology, psychiatry, cancer, surgery, urology and dermatology — represents 18 percent of the DMC’s business.

The contract under which 400 physician group doctors treat patients in DMC hospitals was set to expire in March but was extended for six months.

Francis X. Donnelly contributed.