DETROIT — By April 1, 2003, Detroit Medical Center (DMC) expects all 11 of its primary care clinics to be in private hands. The clinics will be put up for sale to private buyers “for fair market value,” with doctors currently working there having first crack at purchasing or leasing the facilities. During the transition period, the DMC is working with a professional consulting firm that is teaching clinic doctors things they would have known, had they been operating on their own, such as how to bill for services.

Why the move to privatization? Because of poor economic performance, say officials. And while it’s good — and a sign of progress — that privatization now seems to occur to public managers as an option when faced with such performance, the most amazing thing about this story is the level of catastrophe that must overtake a public venture in order for its managers to take action. The details appear in the final paragraph of the Nov. 21 Detroit Free Press story: “Under the DMC’s ownership, the clinics have never been profitable and are expected to lose $21.6 million this year.”

Needless to say, a private venture that performed thus would not be described as “never profitable.” In fact, it couldn’t be described at all, since it would be “non-existent.”