Detroit medical students rally to save training program

Privatization push may be undermining university-hospital partnership

DETROIT — The concept of “going to the doctor” for a mild health problem does not exist for many Americans. They are forced to wait until their condition has become an emergency before they can afford time away from work. Many times, by this point, the mild condition has become exponentially worse. This drastically drives up the cost of health care. These unnecessary complications between money and health care have become a paramount issue in Detroit.

“Who wants a contract? Detroit wants a contract!” These words reverberated off the walls of the hospitals of the Detroit Medical Center on Oct. 13. Fearing a closure of their medical residency training programs and an impending health care crisis for metropolitan Detroit, 500 resident physicians and Wayne State University Medical students gathered at a rally jointly sponsored by the university and the DMC.

Under a longstanding partnership between the two institutions, medical residents from Wayne State train and practice medicine at the DMC. But many here fear that the efforts of the hospital’s CEO Mike Duggan to transform the DMC from a public nonprofit hospital into a for-profit may be moving the hospital to pull out of the partnership. The privatization push may be the reason behind the two institutions’ inability over a five-year period to renew their contract. Instead, the partnership has been functioning under successive contract extensions since 2001.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has made it clear that there will be no more extensions beyond a Dec. 31 deadline. The failure of previous negotiations already resulted in the closure of one of the nation’s largest orthopedic surgery residency programs at the end of the last academic year.

Failure to sign a contract would cause an immediate health care crisis here. The university, with the nation’s largest medical school, would lose medical student rotation sites as well as their residency programs at the DMC. The 850 residents of Wayne State who train and practice medicine at the DMC would have to relocate. Replacing a number this large might be impossible.

The hospital’s functioning would be severely impacted. University faculty members account for 80 percent of the DMC’s services and 65 percent of its revenue. To replace them, DMC will have to hire private physicians. The only option I can foresee is for the DMC to drastically decrease its services to the underserved and uninsured.

This situation would threaten the financial stability and resource availability of all health care systems in metropolitan Detroit, causing a health care crisis in the region.

The United States spends more than any other country on health care. Yet, as a country, we are not even in the top 20 nations for health care results.

Although our health care system shows great success in treating upper-middle-class patients and beyond, we are failing our patients in the rural and urban areas of our country.

The failure of our country to not “cover everybody” has led to millions of our people going through life without health insurance. As a medical student at Wayne State and a native Detroiter, this population is visible to me every day.

I fear that if this contract negotiation ends in failure, money will once again win, with the people most in need of health care being the ultimate losers.

— submitted by a concerned Wayne State medical student