CLEVELAND — After the director of its Wellness Institute was forced to walk back an anti-vaccine blog post over the weekend, the Cleveland Clinic revealed Monday that it has already spent months reevaluating the institute’s focus and expects to halt the sale of some alternative medicine products.

Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Shiel told STAT that hospital administrators are concerned that the institute’s focus has grown too unwieldy and less connected to the clinic’s broader mission of providing the best, evidence-based medicine and services to patients. She said the wellness center will likely stop selling some of its commercial products, such as homeopathy kits sold in the gift shop of its suburban Lyndhurst location, and move toward general wellness programs that would improve diet and lifestyle decisions by patients and its own employees.

On Friday, Wellness Institute Director Dr. Daniel Neides published a column whose anti-vaccine rhetoric drew a torrent of social media criticism. Neides, board-certified in family medicine, apologized for his rant soon after, and the clinic said he would be facing disciplinary action.

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In form and substance, the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute is about as far from a hospital as it gets. Its cavernous atrium in an affluent Cleveland suburb features a waterfall, rock-framed pool, and heavy indoor foliage. On Monday, you could have heard a pin drop, despite a steady stream of water and patients.

There was zero evidence of the turmoil at the center. But also missing were certain evidence-based services that most hospitals are known for — a contrast that is drawing criticism of these integrative medicine outposts, which have popped up at hospitals around the country.

The clinic’s wellness institute in Lyndhurst is one of several wellness centers the clinic operates in the Cleveland area. The Lyndhurst branch houses its administrative offices and provides Chinese herbal therapy, acupuncture, mind-body coaching, and hypnotherapy, among other services. Those offerings don’t explain Neides’s rant, which many of his colleagues, including those in integrative medicine, have denounced. But homeopathic kits and reiki services offer some sense of the huge canyon that exists between conventional hospital medicine, which usually rests on a foundation of clinical research, and what is considered treatment at these alternative medicine institutes.

Sheil said the clinic has been looking for chief wellness officer for six months (a different post than the one occupied by Neides). The existing wellness officer, Dr. Mike Roizen, will still work for the clinic in a different post. Sheil emphasized that Roizen’s work has been valuable in building the institute.

Cleveland clinic
Casey Ross/STATThe Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute features a waterfall, rock-framed pool, and heavy indoor foliage.

In the meantime, the clinic is trying to manage the public relations mishap.

The editor of cleveland.com, which published the column, wrote an explanation Monday of its relationship with Neides, who was allowed to directly publish his commentaries to the website with the help of the clinic’s own public relations staff.

Sheil said that hospital staff did not review the content before it was publishing, but staff took it down from the site on Sunday after Neides issued a retraction. Cleveland.com then re-published it, because, in the words of its editor, it is “loath to remove something that has become so central to a debate.”

Neides violated clinic policy by not having his content directly approved by the hospital system, Sheil said, but it is unclear what punishment he might face. She said the vetting of his column did not occur even though the public relations staff had the technical ability to post and remove the column.  

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