Michigan nurses' union accuses Tenet-owned Detroit Medical Center of slashing charity care spending

Role of hundred dollar bills on other bills
The CEO of Detroit Medical Center disputes numbers cited by a Michigan nurses union showing a 98% decrease in the hospital's charity spending since 2013. (gawriloff/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) has accused executives at Detroit Medical Center (DMC) of cutting its spending on indigent patients by 98% since 2013, an accusation the hospital's CEO said is mischaracterized. 

In a report (PDF) released last week, the MNA points to federally reported spending on charity care by Detroit-area hospitals to make its case that Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which took over DMC as part of its acquisition of Vanguard Health System in 2013, has slashed its budget for indigent patients. During that acquisition, Tenet promised to continue the hospital’s historic focus on charity care.

But spending has dropped precipitously since then, according to figures outlined by the MNA. DMC’s spent approximately $470,000 on charity care in 2016, down from almost $23 million in 2013. That number represents a fraction of the costs reported by other area hospitals, and the magnitude of the decline outstrips the reduction in the number of uninsured individuals due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the report says.

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Sara Wallenfang, associate executive director for professional and member relations at the MNA, blasted Tent in a statement.

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“Wealthy executives from Texas are slamming the door on low-income citizens of Detroit,” she said, calling the reduction in charity care dollars “unconscionable—and unacceptable.”

DMC CEO Anthony J. Tedeschi, M.D., disputes the report’s conclusions, telling Michigan Radio that the MNA relied on cherrypicked data. He also made reference to difficult ongoing contract negotiations between the hospital and the union, suggesting the report was an attempt to “distract us from what is most important,” and “an insult to these hardworking men and women who work with the DMC.”

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Wallenfang denied any connection between the report and contract talks. Marjorie Mitchell, executive director of the Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network, stood by the numbers as reported.

“If indeed they want to dispute this, good. Show us the data,” she told Michigan Radio. “Open up your books and let us see.”