Children's Hospital CEO departs amid DMC plan to cut asthma services

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit — The leader of the Detroit Medical Center Children's Hospital of Michigan is leaving the troubled health system following proposed cuts to allergy and asthma care, according to two sources with knowledge of the hospital's situation.

It was announced Friday that DMC Children's Hospital President and CEO Luanne Thomas Ewald would step down and become the chief operating officer of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in January.

Luanne Thomas Ewald is CEO of Children's Hospital but will become the new chief operating officer of the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.

The DMC has been owned by for-profit hospital chains since its purchase by Tennessee-based Vanguard Health Systems in January 2011. Vanguard was acquired by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare in October 2013. 

Ewald, who declined to speak Friday with The Detroit News, was discouraged by Tenet's decision to cut services to asthma patients, which constitute a large proportion of admissions at Children's Hospital of Michigan, according to the two sources.

It was unclear Friday how Tenet proposed to reduce services to asthma patients.

Ewald issued a statement to The News disputing her departure was prompted by Tenet's plans.

“I made the decision to leave my role at Children’s Hospital of Michigan for a new career opportunity," she said. "The characterization of the reasons for my departure in your story are false and without merit.”

DMC spokesman Brian Taylor said Ewald "played a key role in helping the DMC successfully implement major initiatives such as the new Children's Patient Tower and the opening of the Children's Hospital of Michigan in Troy. We appreciate her dedicated service to our patients, staff and the communities we serve."

Taylor noted a national search will be conducted for her replacement.

Detroit has the highest rate of asthma in young children among America’s 18 largest cities, a problem that experts link to urban ills that could affect their health and learning for the rest of their lives.

A 2015 study done for The Detroit News and "PBS NewsHour" by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found more than 24,000 of Detroit’s roughly 193,800 children have asthma, or about 12.4%. 

Older kids, ages 12-17, have a lower rate, making Detroit’s overall asthma rate, from birth through 17, third highest in the country, following Phoenix and Philadelphia.

Treatment of childhood asthma is a key part of the DMC's historic commitment to provide safety net services in Detroit.

Ewald's departure comes amid challenges faced by the health system.

Most recently, DMC learned last month the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education will withdraw accreditation from the health system's training program for neurosurgeons in June.

The accreditation loss was blamed in part on the discordant relationship between the DMC and Wayne State University Medical School, which nearly severed their century-long academic partnership last May before reconciling. Both the DMC and the university have sought other partners, with some success. 

Several DMC hospitals, including Children's, were threatened with the loss of Medicare and Medicaid participation in 2016, when The Detroit News published a series of articles on dirty surgical instruments at five hospitals on DMC's downtown campus.

The problems were corrected after DMC invested more than a million dollars in new surgical equipment and other improvements to its sterile processing center.

Harper University Hospital, Detroit Receiving Hospital and Sinai-Grace Hospital last year failed health inspections. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) scheduled termination of Medicare funding at all three hospitals before problems were corrected.

Detroit Receiving Hospital failed an inspection in November and is scheduled for termination of Medicare Funding in February if problems aren't corrected. CMS did not immediately respond Friday to a request for information on Receiving's status. 

Ewald, who was with the DMC for more than a quarter-century, announced in a letter to DMC staff Friday she would resign effective Jan. 1. She begins her new role Jan. 6.

"It is with deep mixed emotions that I have thoughtfully and prayerfully decided that I will be leaving Children's Hospital of Michigan January 1, 2020, to explore other career opportunities," Ewald wrote.

Hours later, the University of Michigan announced her appointment as chief operating officer of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital at Michigan Medicine.

Ewald's departure follows that of Detroit Medical Center CEO Dr. Anthony Tedeschi, who announced last week he will retire on Jan. 1. Tedeschi will be replaced by Audrey Gregory, DMC president and CEO of the downtown adult campus of the seven-hospital nonprofit health system.

Ewald was named leader at Children's Hospital of Michigan in 2015, following the departure of Dr. Herman Gray to lead Southeastern Michigan United Way. Gray now serves as chairman of the pediatrics faculty at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Ewald will be responsible for the strategic leadership and operational management of all administrative activities at Mott and Von Voigtlander, according to a University of Michigan press release. 

“Luanne has an impressive record of leadership and advocacy for women’s and children’s health,” said Dr. Marschall Runge, UM's executive vice president of medical affairs, CEO of Michigan Medicine and dean of the Medical School.

“We greatly look forward to Luanne bringing her strong background and expertise in health management to guide the strategic growth of our children’s and women’s programs and services.”

Twitter: @kbouffardDN