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McLaren's plan to bypass rules for new hospital is sheer arrogance in nature

Sep 24, 2014

One of the things I’ve noticed over the last few years is how many local hospitals seem to have been taken over by McLaren Health Care, a chain that originally started in Flint.

That in itself may not be bad; there have certainly been cases of local stand-alone hospitals that lacked the resources to properly serve their communities.

But it sometimes seems to me that while America once had wards between rival steel and railroad magnates, we now have hospital system wars. And we now have a case of sheer hospital arrogance.

Phil Incarnati, McLaren’s president and CEO, seems to believe the state’s rules for allowing where hospitals can expand are just fine – as long as they don’t apply to him. Over and over again, McLaren has been denied permission to build a new hospital near Clarkston, an affluent area in northern Oakland County.

Incarnati wants to build there, and transfer beds from Pontiac, a less wealthy area. But Michigan has a time-tested Certificate of Need process that’s designed to make sure all areas of the state have access to health care, and keep costs down. Think of it as both a consumer protection and anti-trust rule.

Michigan’s Department of Community Health has told McLaren it would not allow them to build a new facility in Clarkston. The Legislature has also said no, twice.  So have the courts.

Almost nobody thinks McLaren should be allowed to build this hospital except McLaren.

But somehow, the health system has enlisted Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. They want special treatment, and Richardville is trying to get it by ramming a bill through the Legislature.

By the way, this isn’t a case of liberal bureaucrats stymieing business. Other hospital systems and the top five employers of Oakland County are opposed to letting McLaren have its way.

By professional standards, Michigan already has excess hospital beds; a spokesman for Trinity Health systems said a new McLaren facility would be “totally unnecessary and unneeded,” and would hurt all the area hospitals.

Even some Republican legislators, including Sen. Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell, are opposed to the bill. But the Senate majority leader claims Gov. Rick Snyder supports giving McLaren special treatment. If that’s the case, the governor is guilty of rank hypocrisy. Since he took office, Snyder has maintained that the state should not be trying to “pick winners and losers” or dole out special treatment in the business world.

That’s the reason he gave for ending the film tax credit and nearly killing the state’s fast-growing movie industry.

Almost nobody thinks McLaren should be allowed to build this hospital except McLaren.

Yesterday, its CEO actually said “how dare” anyone deny him. According to the Detroit Free Press, Incarnati snapped:

“We’re not here to debate the merits of the certificate of need law. We’re here to accomplish some business and public policy goals.”

Evidently he thinks rules are for the little people.

Well, normally Crain’s Detroit Business never meets an expansion it doesn’t like, but this week, the newspaper says the governor should tell McLaren to forget it.

Now Rick Snyder needs to live up to his own standards.

And I’d like to see Randy Richardville vow not to take a job with McLaren when he has to leave the Legislature barely three months from now.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.