CLEVELAND — Dr. Toby Cosgrove on Wednesday gets a chance to reboot a turbulent 2017.
The Cleveland Clinic’s chief executive, one of the most powerful leaders in US medicine, will give his first lengthy public remarks following weeks of controversies and protests that have repeatedly thrust the health system into a harsh national spotlight.
His annual state-of-the-clinic speech comes after sharp criticism over his ties to President Donald Trump. Cosgrove has agreed to advise the president on business matters and has avoided publicly criticizing Trump — even after the president’s immigration order denied re-entry to one of the clinic’s own residents.
Cosgrove is taking the unusual step of giving two speeches this year — one at the hospital and another in the evening in downtown Cleveland, for an invitation-only crowd. “He just wants to share a little more with the community about what’s going on at the clinic,” said the health system’s spokeswoman, Eileen Sheil.
Lately, it would be hard to miss what’s going on at the clinic.
And most of the news coverage has focused on political controversies, rather than the usual stories about research and clinical advances. Cosgrove, who withdrew from consideration to run the Department of Veterans Affaris under Trump, has refused to cancel a Feb. 25 fundraiser to be held at the president’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. That’s drawn a slew of protests. And Cosgrove continues to participate in a group of top executives advising the president on business matters, which has only drawn more criticism.
Even family members of one of the clinic’s founders, George Washington Crile, joined protests against Cosgrove and the clinic last week.
The political storm comes on the heels of an embarrassing episode in January in which Cosgrove was forced to disavow an anti-vaccine rant, wrongly linking vaccines to autism, by the medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute.
Whether Cosgrove will address any of this on Wednesday is unclear. Typically, his annual speech is a local affair — a chance to talk about the system’s financial performance and clinical accomplishments.
This year’s event, titled “Building Our Future,” is being promoted by the clinic’s PR staff on Twitter, a forum many onlookers have used to criticize the health system in recent weeks.
Cosgrove, 76, cited a desire to finish his work at the clinic when he withdrew from consideration for the VA job earlier this year. Among other projects, the clinic is building a $500 million health education campus with Case Western Reserve University, as well as a new medical center in London.
Given its size and import in US medicine, the health system is also prominent player in the discussions over the future of US medicine and the policy decisions that will guide it, including the pending repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
In policy discussions, Cosgrove has preferred to play a mostly behind-the-scenes role, keeping his personal reactions to Trump’s policies to himself while taking occasional opportunities to advise the president behind the scenes.