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Noseworthy: America needs 'quality, sustainable' health system

Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy talks Wednesday with local media for perhaps the last time as CEO.

As he prepares to retire next week from his position as president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, Dr. John Noseworthy issued what sounded like a challenge to the American people.

"There are some unanswered questions in American health care," Noseworthy, who will retire Jan. 1, said during a session Wednesday with Rochester news media. "Society has to make a choice. Does America want to have a quality, sustainable health care system?"

So far, he said, that has not been enough of a priority to force solutions.

In that vein, Noseworthy, a Massachusetts native who did his medical training in Canada, was asked for his observations of the popular Canadian health care system.

"Canadians are proud of it until they get sick," he said. The Canadian system does provide universal coverage, but lacks adequate resources, he said.


But other countries, he said, have also failed to find a way to combine universal coverage, high quality care and affordability. "That solution has eluded all western societies," Noseworthy said.

After listing a range of options and choices to consider, Noseworthy said, "There is a solution in there, but it comes with a cost."

On a more upbeat note, Noseworthy said he’s proud of his leadership of Mayo and said the clinic is well-positioned for the future. "These 9½ years have gone very well from my perspective," he said. By any measurement, including patient satisfaction scores, Mayo has had a successful decade, he said.

And, of course, Mayo remains the No. 1-rated medical center in the country.

Noseworthy said Wednesday it’s too soon to consider possible future employment until he officially leaves Mayo.

One thing is certain: Noseworthy, 67, a neurologist, said he has decided to no longer practice medicine. He joined Mayo in 1990, and was chairman of the Department of Neurology, medical director of the Department of Development, and vice chairman of the Mayo Clinic Rochester Executive Board before becoming president and CEO in 2009.

The new president and CEO of Mayo Clinic will be Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, who has been head of Mayo’s Jacksonville, Fla., campus.

During Noseworthy’s tenure as president, Mayo has celebrated numerous successes, including the approval by the state of Minnesota of the Destination Medical Center project that is remaking downtown Rochester.


There have also been difficult times, including the controversy surrounding the clinic’s decision to combine its Albert Lea and Austin hospitals in one facility. The community of Albert Lea was outraged when word got out that the city would lose some services at its hospital.

The decision was based on an inability to provide quality staffing at both facilities, Noseworthy said Wednesday. The solution — combining services in one place — was the correct one, he said.

However, he added, "We hadn’t engaged the community adequately. That was bad on us, and we’ve learned from that. We didn’t handle that well, and I take full accountability for that."

As for the clinic’s partnership with its hometown of Rochester, Noseworthy was full of praise for the community.

"We hear a lot about what the people of Rochester do for the patients who come here," he said. "I think that relationship is actually stronger than it’s ever been."

Patients who come to Rochester and Mayo from elsewhere, he said, soon recognize "there’s something different about this place."

In Rochester, Noseworthy said, "The community knows we have lots of visitors and they treat them kindly."

Rochester will continue to be home for Noseworthy and his wife, Patricia, he said.


"We have family and grandchildren in the area," he said. "We’re going to stay here. We love it here."

Among his retirement plans: "I’ve always wanted to play piano," he said.

Along the way, he’ll have to get accustomed to no longer being part of Mayo Clinic.

"Being a member of the voting staff of Mayo Clinic, that is the highest honor I could have wished for in my life," Noseworthy said. "I’m going to miss it. It’s going to be bittersweet."

Then he added, "I’d do it all over again in a minute."

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