Initially, the hospital network sought typical approval through Michigan's Certificate of Need (CON) Commission, which examines proposed hospitals and determines whether they're appropriate or even needed. The CON Commission denied McLaren's request to move 200 unused beds from its Oakland Hospital in Pontiac to a new hospital it wants to build in Independence.
The effort's were met with a fierce backlash from other hospital operators in the area, including the CEO of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, who told The Oakland Press earlier this year that, "The only reason McLaren wants to go there is that it's a population that has very low levels of uninsured patients, and it's very attractive economically. They'll cry that they are serving the community, (but) they're very self-serving."
Jack Weiner, the CEO, told the newspaper that patients in the Indepence area are "already served by about six different area hospitals."
After the CON commission denied the request, McLaren went to Oakland County Circuit Court, but failed to win a judge's approval. The health care network lost on appeal, too. So they sought a willing ear in Lansing, and found one in State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, who introduced SB 1073 in September to facilitate the new hospital. If you think it's odd thay a legislator who represents an area located more than hour away from the proposed hospital would go out on a limb for McLaren, you're not alone: Even the editorial board of the Toledo Blade found the timing of Richardville's bill "highly dubious," now that the Legislature is fully engrossed in its lame-duck session.
But Senator Richardville is pushing the Legislature hard to pass a bill that would give McLaren a special exemption from the certificate of need process. Executives of other hospitals oppose the legislation; they rightly fear not only empty beds, but also higher costs.
The timing is highly dubious. Suspicions are rife in Lansing that McLaren has made a large contribution to the Senate Republican caucus, or will make one if the bill goes through. Some statehouse observers wonder whether Senator Richardville, who will be out of a job when his term ends in three months, has thoughts of working for McLaren.
Well, if there's anything to be made of a story last night from WXYZ Channel 7, it's that those suspicions might be substantive.
The story from WXYZ's Ross Jones and Adam Brewster focuses on the Michigan Jobs and Labor Fund. According to the report, the non-profit fund raised more than $1.5 million between 2009 and 2012.
That's where the story gets interestng: After McLaren lost their battle in the courts, and started to attempt to court legislators in Lansing, the health care network "started sinking huge checks into the Michigan Jobs and Labor Fund," the report says. "McLaren made multiple, sizable payments with checks totalling six-figures. They are donations you weren't supposed to know about."
When Jones asked Richardville point blank if the legislation he introduced that would only benefit McLaren just coincidentally coincided with the large donations, Richardville gave a simple response:
"Yeah, well, they’re not tied together if that’s what you’re asking," said Richardville.
As you can expect, others aren't so sure if that's actually the case. Check out the full report here.