Kim Kozlowski The Detroit News
Published 12:43 PM EDT Oct 15, 2019
Wayne State University sent a letter this week to 110 pediatricians who work for the university and Children’s Hospital of Michigan, informing them they will lose their jobs with the university next month.
However, university officials say the move will not affect care to patients at Children’s Hospital, nor risk training to medical students or impact medical school accreditation.
The letter, sent Monday, explained that the looming termination is because University Pediatrics, the physicians’ practice group, has not paid the university the funds it uses to pay the doctors’ salaries since February — an amount nearing $18 million.
“We very much regret the necessity of taking this measure, but we are afraid we have no option, due to the failure of University Pediatricians, PC to fulfill its financial obligation on your behalf,” according to the letter, signed by Dr. Herman Gray, chair of WSU’s pediatrics department, and Dr. Jack Sobel, dean of the WSU School of Medicine.
“While your service and contributions to the University’s educational and research programs are held in the highest regard, the University and the School of Medicine cannot sustain this deficit and expense.”
Though the letter does not state this, the pediatrics group stopped paying Wayne State for the pediatricians’ salaries when the practice switched its affiliation from WSU to Central Michigan University. Both WSU and the physicians group have filed lawsuits related to the issue.
Wayne State pediatricians have at least two sources of income — for their work at the university and for their services at Children’s Hospital. The potential termination means the clinical pediatricians could no longer teach and do research at Wayne State.
They could still practice and be paid for working at Children’s Hospital, but they will not have an affiliation with Wayne State if they stay with University Pediatrics physician group. Instead, the pediatricians will be affiliated with Central Michigan, which, unlike Wayne State, is not a research institution.
In the letter, Wayne State offered membership in the new pediatrics group it has created — Wayne Pediatrics — for doctors wanting to avoid termination and stay affiliated with WSU.
Gray said the dispute between Wayne State and the University Pediatrics group has been ongoing for at least three years.
“The university has been pretty patient in trying to work through this,” said Gray. “They want to keep all of their faculty members, but there comes a point when you just say the distraction is not worth it.
“It’s just too hard to focus on why we are actually here: to advance knowledge, to teach the next generation of physicians and to care for people who need our care.”
Gray said the dispute is costing the university millions of dollars, not only in the funds that the University Physician group is failing to pay, but also for costs to start a new practice plan and find a building to renovate so it’s suitable for patient care.
“This is a way for us to call the question,” said Gray. “We are willing to take the brunt of the criticism publicly, because people won’t understand it, to have a faculty group that wants to be Wayne State faculty. And if that 10 people or all 110 of them, we’ll embrace them and go on and do the work we should be doing. We can’t fight all the time and there is no end in sight with this one.”
Mary Lu Angelilli, president of University Pediatricians, could not be immediately reached for comment.
But in a letter sent on her behalf to the doctors Tuesday, she called Wayne State’s move “disappointing.”
“Each of you have given tirelessly over decades serving as their Department of Pediatrics and you certainly did not deserve the lack of care and disrespect that these letters cast upon you,” wrote Angelilli.
“UP will not allow its membership to suffer as a result of WSU’s reckless actions.”
She also said she wanted to reassure the pediatricians that “UP will make each of our physician Members whole on their salaries and each will also be provided with uninterrupted UP benefits.”
“UP will insure that its all of its physician membership will continue to receive all salaries, benefits and all necessary support in order to provide needed clinical and teaching services to all those who seek it,” wrote Angelilli.
Wayne State’s move comes as the university has been paying for a subsidy that historically has come from University Pediatrics from revenue generated by physicians treating patients. It is a payment to help cover the salaries of physicians.
The letter from Gray and Sobel said that unless University Pediatrics pays its arrearage to Wayne State or the physician identifies another salary source by midnight Oct. 30, the pediatrician’s faculty appointment and employment by Wayne State will terminate Nov. 18.
The letter also noted that the doctors could join Wayne Pediatrics — the newly incorporated clinical service group for Wayne State pediatricians.
“We are pleased to tell you that since faculty who join Wayne Pediatrics will not initially be paid under a salary reimbursement agreement, their status as School of Medicine employees will remain unchanged,” the letter stated.
Gray called the situation, “heartbreaking.”
“All the faculty of Wayne State have always historically worked in Children’s Hospital,” he said. “These are two critical institutions to the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. I don’t want to see either of them harmed.”
Gray added that care to children would not be impacted.
“No child at Children’s Hospital of Michigan will be harmed or be placed in jeopardy because of this,” he said. “No child will go untreated.”
Charles Parrish, president of the university faculty union, called the letter, “a sad moment in Wayne State University’s history.”
“The conflict between the University Pediatricians (UP), the former practice plan for the Department and the University Administration has been long term and very contentious,” Parrish said. “There have been failures on both sides in terms of honest bargaining … Among the losers are the faculty members being fired, the medical students they will not be teaching, the research relationships that exist with faculty of other departments in the WSU School of Medicine, and the community that benefited from the services of these clinicians.”
“My heart goes out to those clinicians who have long been members of the University community and whose careers are being so deeply affected by these actions.”
Parrish added that the union is exploring what alternatives might exist to mitigate the impact of the administration’s decision.
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