Shame on me. I’ve only just now learned about Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest serving woman in the history of the House of Representatives and the rare “progressive” I can believe in. Kaptur further validates my belief that there is an inverse relationship between a legislator’s influence and effectiveness and the size of their Twitter following.
Despite serving in Congress for nearly four decades, Kaptur has less than 23,000 Twitter followers. AOC has more than seven million.
I can’t do justice summarizing Kaptur’s myriad accomplishments, but her Congressional page and this Washington Post story are worth a gander. Suffice to say, Kaptur sits on very powerful committees, is an effective champion of the military, veterans, mental health, and Mideast peace. Kaptur was advocating black causes decades before the BLM movement was founded. She’s steered impressive amounts of federal funds to her northern Ohio district.
Kaptur would get my vote simply for her practice of returning Congressional raises to the Treasury or donating them to charity. She and Elaine Luria are better qualified to serve as the Democratic standard bearers than anyone.
When Kaptur speaks, the powerful in her hometown Toledo listen, understandably so because she doesn’t mince words. Here’s what she had to say after the University of Toledo announced it planned to sell its teaching hospital and put out a request for proposals from buyers.
Decisions of this magnitude require careful consideration, transparency, oversight, and input from the community. The sale of northwest Ohio’s only public hospital during a public health emergency in my view would not only be a mistake, but a moral injustice.
As best I understand, University of Toledo Medical Center (UTMC) five years ago forged a partnership with a local health care company with ambitious expansion plans. The health care company moved UTMC’s profitable procedures to other hospitals, crippling the teaching facility’s finances. It was financial hemorrhaging even before the coronavirus pandemic.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, leaked to the local media that his office would scrutinize any sale of UTMC. Democrat Carty Finkbeiner, Toledo’s former mayor, launched a grass roots “Save UTMC” campaign.
UTMC promptly cried “uncle” and cancelled its sale plans indefinitely. On Saturday, the Toledo Blade, one of the last remaining newspapers owned by people connected to their community, called on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, also a Republican, to investigate the partnership deal that got UTMC into trouble. My limited sense of Ohio politics makes me believe DeWine might conduct a real investigation.
Meanwhile, just across the Ohio border, Beaumont Health, Michigan’s biggest hospital network, is at great risk of being merged into Advocate Aurora, a giant out-of-state hospital network with a decidedly inferior reputation. U.S. News & World Report ranks 19 Beaumont adult specialty practices as being among the top 50 in the country. Advocate Aurora doesn’t have any.
The Beaumont merger is being driven by John Fox; an Atlanta accountant named CEO five years ago. All indications are that Fox won’t be sticking around after he likely pockets a lucrative payout for literally giving away Beaumont to an out-of-state company. Fox put his estate in suburban Bloomfield Hills up for sale months ago and multiple sources say he’s in the midst of building a home in Atlanta. Based on a previously published bio, Fox is 72 years old.
Fox has been among the most vocal hospital CEOs clamoring for federal assistance because the Covid pandemic has disrupted Beaumont’s lucrative elective surgery business, once among the most active in the country. Beaumont already has received more than $323 million in federal funds intended to save hospital jobs, but Fox still laid off more 2,500 employees and eliminated 450 positions.
I’ve been writing about Beaumont for Deadline Detroit, an online publication owned by my friend Allan Lengel. What I’ve learned and reported is that Beaumont’s lucrative surgery business would have declined regardless of the pandemic. Two of the nation’s most nationally renowned cardiac surgeons bolted Beaumont’s flagship Royal Oak hospital last December; cardiac surgeons far-and-away generate more hospital profits than any other specialty.
Mismanagement and aggressive cost cutting moves have led to surgical support staff shortages, prompting Beaumont surgeons to seek admitting privileges at competing hospitals. The chairman of surgery at one Beaumont hospital is on record as saying the not-for-profit company is looking to “increase their margins.”
Beaumont recently awarded a contract to a low-cost outsourcing firm to staff and manage anesthesiology services supporting the company’s three nationally ranked hospitals. That will force the departure of the more than 70 anesthesiologists, the majority of whom are fellowship trained, meaning they completed additional residency training to support the complicated and intricate surgeries Beaumont routinely performs.
More than 20 Beaumont cardiologists are actively negotiating to join rival Michigan hospitals and many other Beaumont specialists are looking for alternatives. Morale at Beaumont is low; I’ve received dozens of emails from employees saying their hospitals are way too short staffed to provide proper care. A nurse recently posted on a Beaumont Facebook page that she was so stressed going to work she feared having a heart attack or stroke.
In April, when Michigan’s pandemic cases were at peak levels, Beaumont closed without explanation or disclosure one of its Covid designated hospitals, transferring more than 30 patients, many on ventilators, to VA hospitals. None of the transferred patients were veterans.
Additional Beaumont Covid patients, also on ventilators, were transferred to other Michigan hospitals, some 90 miles away. The local ABC News affiliate reported that one of the transferred patients was listed as “unstable” and died in transit.
Beaumont insisted the transfers were necessary because the company’s hospitals were at capacity, but my sources, and sources for the local ABC News affiliate, said that wasn’t true.
If Beaumont was based in Toledo, you can rest assured Congresswoman Kaptur, Attorney General Yost, former mayor Finkbeiner, and other local leaders would force a halt of the company’s questionable merger and demand answers as to why a Covid-designated hospital was closed in the midst of a pandemic. But the official language of Michigan’s political and business leaders is cricketspeak.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel at this writing haven’t expressed any concerns about Beaumont’s sale or its seeming implosion. Leaders at GM and Ford, which self-fund their health care plans, have also remained silent. The research shows that hospital mergers lead to higher health care costs and don’t improve quality. The automakers and their unionized workers are fast going to learn a painful lesson in hospital economics if Nessel rubber stamps the merger.
What’s tragic is that Whitmer and Nessel, respectively with 332,000 and 60,000 Twitter followers despite limited time in office, have become national media darlings because of their Twitter spats with President Trump. The feud so impressed the Biden campaign that Whitmer before the Black Lives Matter protests was considered a front-runner for the vice president slot, potentially putting her one heartbeat away from the presidency.
The Detroit Free Press has ignored the Beaumont merger, other than to cover the news release the hospital company sent to them. Hardly a surprise for a “local” newspaper whose designers and copy editors are based in Kentucky.
All politics is local, according to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill. If Trump is looking for a way to discredit “that woman from Michigan’’ or the state’s “wacky, do nothing attorney general,” he’d find a creative way to block the Beaumont sale and investigate conditions at the company’s hospitals.
Beaumont has more than 38,000 employees with families and patients forever grateful for the superior care Beaumont once provided them. Come November, it would still be very fresh in their minds who saved their local hospitals. That’s a lot of votes in a critical state Trump needs for reelection.
A version of this story appeared July 18 in Deadline Detroit.