To: Gene Michalski, CEO, Beaumont Health System, Royal Oak, Mich.

From: Joe Goedert, News Editor, Health Data Management magazine, Muskegon, Mich.

Re: Meetings, not patients come first at Beaumont

Mr. Michalski: My mother is 79 years old, on oxygen, but still quite active and a Beaumont patient. She recently drove 200 miles from Detroit to Muskegon to attend my son’s high school graduation.

On the drive here, she used a wearable liquid oxygen canister (Helios), and brought a portable oxygen compactor rented from Beaumont - a wheeled machine that compacts oxygen from the air. When she arrived here she plugged in the compactor. It worked for a while then began malfunctioning with warning lights and beeps. Then it turned off. The only way to get it to work was to set the level of delivered oxygen to a lower level, which was OK for sleeping.

The next day she was supposed to drive home, but needed a dependable source of oxygen. The canister was empty and the compactor was unreliable. We called Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon to inquire about getting the liquid oxygen canister filled. They said “sure,” but they needed the prescription and some other information from Beaumont.

We called Beaumont's oxygen services unit and explained the problem. We were told that Medicare would need to be contacted to get a list of approved vendors in Muskegon. And then we waited for Beaumont to call back. But it didn’t. We called again. We mentioned a second time that the machine delivering oxygen was not operating properly. We were told that the person at Beaumont who needed to approve having Mercy fill the canister was in a meeting--along with most everyone else in the unit--and no one would be pulled out of the meeting for a minute.

That means nothing happened after Beaumont was initially called and told an oxygen patient’s oxygen machine wasn't working properly.

We waited, called Beaumont back and were told the meeting was continuing, no one would be pulled out and we’d have to wait. We called 30 minutes later, the meeting was over, but no one had called us. Further, the person we were told who was supposed to take care of the problem wasn’t the right one, and the correct person had to be found. We reminded them again that the oxygen machine wasn’t properly functioning.

Three hours and fifteen minutes after the first call to Beaumont, Mercy was given approval for my Mom, a Beaumont patient, to have an assured supply of oxygen to drive safely home. Wow, thanks a lot! 

Maybe things would have gone faster if our first two mentions that the oxygen machine was malfunctioning had been passed on to the appropriate people, which it turns out had not been done. Maybe things would have gone faster if anyone at Beaumont had bothered to contact the appropriate people in the first place.

But clearly, a 79-year-old with a faulty oxygen machine just wasn’t a priority. This was a simple request with a couple of bureaucratic steps that could have and should have been quickly done if patients really were more important than meetings.

A core component of the health care reform law is a focus on better coordinated care within and across provider organizations, particularly with at-risk and chronically ill patients. The reform law’s provisions--including health information exchange among disparate organizations--compel providers to become more accountable for the care they deliver.

Mr. Michalski, it has been two years since health reform provisions became law, but Beaumont’s culture doesn’t yet get it. And that failure directly lands at your door. If you’d like to apologize to my mom--your patient--send me an e-mail.


Joe Goedert

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