WSU med school chief rips DMC, wants other partners

Kim Kozlowski and Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit — The leader of Wayne State University’s medical school said Tuesday the Detroit Medical Center’s contributions to the university are so nominal, the school will look to other hospital partners to achieve its plan for regional health care.

“We’ve recognized that our input and the contribution of the DMC to our lives in the medical school has been minimal,” WSU School of Medicine Dean Dr. Jack Sobel said Tuesday in an email sent to the medical school. “They contribute nothing to education, nothing to research on this campus, and it would appear that our courses are really incompatible.”

Joseph Mullany, CEO of the DMC, said Tuesday he was surprised to learn of Sobel’s comments, which came two months after the Wayne State University Physician Group reached a new contract to provide services to the DMC.

“DMC officials met with Dean Sobel just last week and had a very positive meeting about the future,” Mullany said. “But I am not surprised as DMC board members say this has been said for the past 20 years whenever things are going bad at WSU.

“DMC will continue to focus on the health needs of patients in our area and teaching DMC residents. We look forward to working with WSU on both.”

While the medical school has several hospital partners beyond the DMC — including Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, Henry Ford Health System, St. John Hospital and Health System and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute — the partnership with the DMC is the largest and longest, stretching back decades, WSU spokesman Matt Lockwood said.

“We are not splitting from the DMC,” Lockwood said “All the dean is saying is to fulfill our vision, we may have to cultivate those existing partnerships and explore new ones.”

Conrad Mallet, DMC’s chief administration officer, said WSU’s relationship with the DMC should be cultivated more, not less.

“The Detroit Medical Center was disappointed to learn that after successful contract negotiations and meetings held as recently as seven days ago WSU no longer supports the partnership,” Mallett said. “The DMC believes the patients we serve and the medical students and residents we teach, deserve our best efforts to preserve and make stronger our important, decades old relationship.”

The DMC is the region’s largest hospital system, with 3,000 affiliated physicians. It has five contracts with WSU’s doctors. The largest is the University Physician Group, which represents WSU doctors in such fields as family medicine, neurology, psychiatry, cancer, surgery, urology and dermatology.

In October, the DMC and University Physician Group reached an 18-month contract, under which 400 physician group doctors provide medical, administrative and clinical services in DMC hospitals.

“This was a really difficult process, and we recognized (our) status as partners with the DMC,” Sobel said Monday during a town hall meeting at the medical school that was recorded on video. “It also forced us to recognize the need for finding new partners. New partners with other health care systems, without abandoning this campus.”

WSU officials acknowledged last year a $29 million deficit spread among the physician group, the Fund for Medical Research and Education, and the Wayne State medical school. Officials have since said they have slashed that deficit to $17 million.

This is not the first time the relationship between the DMC and the university has seen friction. After a funding dispute, the two sides agreed in 2010 to transfer 10 WSU faculty physician groups to the DMC under a five-year agreement aimed at overhauling the relationship.

Among the issues that stalled recent contract negotiations this year were disagreements over doctor pay on DMC’s side. But WSU officials contended they wanted the DMC to be more of an academic partner and invest more into WSU as an academic health center.

Academic health centers differ from community hospitals in several ways, Sobel said in his email. They provide specialized care for complex diseases and illnesses, and offer care not available elsewhere in the region. They train the next generation of health care professionals and conduct scientific and clinical research that leads to new technology and treatments.

“Academic health centers attract hundreds of millions of dollars in national research grants that feed into the regional economy in years to come, infusing the local economy with technology and growth,” Sobel wrote. “Detroit deserves a top 15 academic health center, a system that weaves the interrelated health sciences into a modern, integrated health care model that cares for patients today and far into the future.

“We believe it is time for the region to begin laying this foundation as Detroit reinvents itself as the new model of the thriving Midwest metropolitan area.”