SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Bernie gives Mayo Clinic the burn, chastises it for 'corporate greed'

d135934e2697cac8b896f82b5964eae3.jpg
Sen. Bernie Sanders chastised the Mayo Clinic on Friday, saying it has put profits over the people. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)
We are part of The Trust Project.

Mayo Clinic was thrust into the presidential health care debate on Friday when Bernie Sanders sent out a tweet accusing the health network of "corporate greed" and "putting profits over people" in its decision to close a number of rural clinics. 

"Mayo Clinic executives have decided to strip away access to health care from tens of thousands of rural Midwesterners – putting profits over people," the Vermont senator's tweet said. "Under Medicare for All, we will end the corporate greed in health care that is leaving rural Americans behind."

The Sanders tweet was linked to a MinnPost article written by Anna Thompson Hajdik, a native Minnesotan and college English teacher. The article was titled "The Mayo Clinic prioritizes profits over patients as rural communities are left behind."

Hajdik and the Sanders campaign argue that Mayo Clinic and other health care systems are contributing to the "hollowing out" of rural America by closing rural clinics in response to declining demand.

"I just think the optics look so bad for them, when they extend their global brand as the disparities continue to widen between rural and urban America," Hajdik said in a PB interview. 

ADVERTISEMENT

In response, a Mayo Clinic spokesman said the clinic is committed to serving all its patients.

"Mayo Clinic is proud to serve over 500,000 patients in the health system," said spokesman Karl W. Oestreich. "We remain committed to providing high-quality services to all of our patients, whether here in Minnesota or abroad, and continue to work to find creative solutions for serving rural communities in the future."

The Sanders tweet also comes less than two months before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 kick off the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process. 

Health care has figured prominently in Democratic presidential debates. And it has divided the candidates. Some, such as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, argue for a root-and-branch reshaping of the health care industry, while others, such as Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg push for a more incremental approach. 

Mayo Clinic has lately been the target of critics who say its bottom-line focus has caused it to stray from its foundational principles embodied by Will and Charlie Mayo.

Mayo has, over the last three years, closed or reduced services to small towns, including Springfield, Lamberton, Fairmont, LeRoy and La Crescent in Minnesota, and Waukon in northeastern Iowa. Mayo has also reduced services in Albert Lea, including a labor and delivery unit, and moved them to the hospital in Austin.

At the same time, Mayo is opening its first hospital outside the United States in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, one of the wealthiest nations on the globe. 

A lecturer at University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, Hajdik wasn't aware that the Sanders' campaign had tweeted out her article.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hajdik lives in Madison, but was raised in Clearwater, a small Minnesota town of 1,700. Two years ago, her hometown's nursing home closed, "something felt acutely" there, she said. She described herself as intensely interested in rural-urban divide issues.

Though not a health care policy expert herself, Hajdik said she has a number of family members employed or retired from health care-related fields. Her mom, Mary Thompson, is a retired Houston County public health nurse. Her sister, Emily Thompson, is a health data planner for Hennepin County who lives in Rochester

Hajdik said her decision to write the article was triggered by the dissonance between Mayo's global ambitions and its retreat from rural America. 

"Why are they having all this global expansion when we see such disparities in our own backyard," Hajdik said. "That just really ticks me off."

In her article, Hajdik argues that Mayo's business model makes sense in the for-profit corporate world. But its status as a nonprofit entity that was recently the beneficiary of a $585 million spending package approved by the Legislature in 2013 imposes a greater "humanitarian" responsibility toward the rural patients it once served. 

In previous closure announcements, Mayo officials have described the increasing difficulty of recruiting and hiring physicians to rural clinics. For many such clinics, physicians aren't required to be on call full-time. And many rural places don't offer the cultural amenities that many health care professionals are looking for. 

Hajdik doesn't deny that rural parts of the U.S. are in demographic decline, with aging populations and declining birth rates. But disinvestment of those communities is not the answer, she argues. And Mayo, which posed $12.8 billion in revenue in 2018, may be in a stronger position to help than many financially stressed hospitals.

She proposes that the revenue generated by the the Abu Dhabi "mega-hospital" go toward a fund to support rural clinics. That would help strengthen the fabric of rural America. It would also be true to the spirit of the Mayo brothers, who paid the bills of the their poorest patients during the Great Depression, she said. 

Related Topics: MAYO CLINICHEALTHCARE
What to read next
A small county in Tennessee for much of the past year has reported the highest COVID-19 vaccination rate in Tennessee and one of the highest in the South. If only it were true. The rate in Meigs County was artificially inflated by a data error that distorted most of Tennessee’s county-level vaccination rates by attributing tens of thousands of doses to the wrong counties, according to a KHN review of Tennessee’s vaccination data. When the Tennessee Department of Health quietly corrected the error last month, county rates shifted overnight, and Meigs County’s rate of fully vaccinated people dropped from 65% to 43%, which is below the state average and middling in the rural South.
It is important to be aware if you begin to experience a feeling of fullness in your ears, increased pain or more intense itching, or begin to have hearing complications.
The key is to continually remind children and teens that they are cared for, and to help them get back into the structure and familiar activities that give them a feeling of accomplishment. That's the advice of two experts from Mayo Clinic.
"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack says there are times when a decision has to be made on behalf of a family member.