LEVELAND — Stung by negative publicity over a doctor’s anti-vaccine rant, the chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic penned a missive warning employees not to link their personal views with the hospital system.
Dr. Toby Cosgrove, praised this morning by President-elect Donald Trump during Trump’s first press conference, cited the column by Dr. Daniel Neides without mentioning him by name in telling colleagues that publishing such discredited ideas under the banner of the clinic “has the potential to cause confusion and controversy” that could undermine its broader mission, according to a copy of the email obtained by STAT.
Cosgrove was recently courted by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the US Department of Veterans Affairs and he sits on Trump’s President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.
He also directly addressed the arguments of Neides, director of the clinic’s Wellness Institute, saying, “These opinions do not represent evidence-based medicine, and the Cleveland Clinic remains committed to advocating for vaccinations to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.”
The controversy exploded just weeks after Cosgrove withdrew from consideration to head the VA and while he was preparing to attend a prominent gathering of health care leaders at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. During Trump’s press conference, he said that Cosgrove and the Cleveland Clinic will be among the health care systems that will aid the administration in fixing problems at the VA.
Cosgrove is among the most well-known hospital CEOs in the nation. He is also a Vietnam War veteran.
The clinic has endured days of negative coverage since the column was published last Friday and has already said it is reevaluating some of the products sold by its wellness institute.
In his column, published by Cleveland.com, Neides wrote, “Does the vaccine burden — as has been debated for years — cause autism? I don’t know and will not debate that here. What I will stand up and scream is that newborns without intact immune systems and detoxification systems are being over-burdened with PRESERVATIVES AND ADJUVANTS IN THE VACCINES.” Adjuvants are added to vaccines to prompt a stronger immune response.
In the column he identified himself a a Cleveland Clinic physician and the hospital system’s logo was above the text.
The column provoked almost instant outrage on social media, causing public embarrassment for the clinic, a hospital system that collects $8 billion a year in revenue and is considered one of the top medical providers in the US.
“Whether we realize it or not, every caregiver is a representative of Cleveland Clinic. How we engage in our lives outside of work can be linked back to our health system,” Cosgrove wrote, adding later, “in our world of social media, where every message has the potential to cause confusion and controversy, we must be mindful that our personal views cannot be associated with Cleveland Clinic’s.”
Neides has since apologized for his column and issued a retraction, and the clinic has said it intends to take “appropriate disciplinary action” against him. But the wider damage is proving harder to contain, as Neides’s arguments were picked up by anti-vaccine supporters who are using it to advance their arguments.
Cosgrove closed the note by saying, “Our good name is among Cleveland Clinic’s greatest assets. Please help us protect it. Thanks for your support and for all you do every day for those we serve.”
A Cleveland Clinic spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the clinic still strongly encourages the use of social media by its caregivers to be “positive ambassadors” for the organization. “We also want them to be mindful that their personal views can impact the institution,” the statement said. “These are longstanding media and social media policies at Cleveland Clinic that we sent out as a reminder in light of this issue.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized Dr. Cosgrove’s consideration for secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Cosgrove was among those being considered, but withdrew.