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Mayo Clinic says family's statements to CNN 'are not supported by the facts'

Mayo Clinic says family's statements to CNN 'are not supported by the facts'

Update: Mayo Clinic took the extraordinary move late Wednesday of responding aggressively to what it describes as "inaccurate, incomplete and irresponsible reporting" from CNN. Our report here.

Mayo Clinic is pushing back against an article published Monday morning on CNN that includes searing allegations from family members who accuse staff at St. Marys Hospital of "medically kidnapping" a teen patient.

The two-part report, which has since been distributed to news outlets across the world, centers on a patient named Alyssa Gilderhus.

Alyssa and her family say Mayo Clinic clinicians saved her life during an emergency surgery after a blood vessel burst inside her brain.

From there, though, the family says Alyssa was moved to a rehabilitation facility, where doctors refused to address their concerns. Tensions soon exploded, CNN reports, and the mother was banned from the hospital.

The family says they were unhappy with the care Alyssa was receiving at Mayo and repeatedly asked to have her transferred to a different hospital.

Alyssa's team at Mayo, however, resisted the family's request — stating they were concerned that Alyssa's medical condition would require ongoing care. The doctors, according to notes obtained by CNN, "felt she was not medically or functionally safe to leave the hospital at the time."

The family ended up devising a scheme to get Alyssa out of the hospital at the objections of Mayo staff. Mayo reported the incident as an abduction.

The clinic had been trying to get emergency guardianship of Alyssa, but was unsuccessful in its efforts, CNN reports. Police later called off the search because as an adult, Alyssa was legally able to make her own decisions.

Mayo contends it was looking out for the needs of the patient. A social worker from Mayo reportedly told local police that Alyssa was unable to make decisions for herself and that her mother couldn't care for her "because Amber has mental health issues." Amber Engebretson refutes claims about her mental state. In the CNN report, she said the experience, which happened in early 2017, made Alyssa "basically a prisoner of Mayo."

Since leaving Mayo, Alyssa has finished up physical and speech therapy and plans to attend college this fall. The family has not filed a lawsuit against the hospital system, though Alyssa is reportedly talking with a lawyer.

They told CNN that Mayo still hasn't given them an explanation for why it was trying to arrange guardianship for Alyssa. However, the family offered a theory: that Mayo was retaliating against them for questioning staff.

"I think that the doctor I made mad wanted to make sure that I paid for it no matter what," Amber Engebretson told the network.

Mayo responds

Mayo Clinic put out a statement Monday afternoon emphatically rejecting the claims made in the CNN story.

The Rochester-based medical center, continuously ranked among the best in the world, said following a "thorough and careful review," it has determined that "the version of events provided by certain patient family members to CNN are not supported by the facts nor do they track with the direct observations of numerous other providers on the patient’s care team."

"Our internal review determined that the care team’s actions were true to Mayo Clinic’s primary value that the patient’s needs come first," said Mayo (you can read Mayo's full statement here). "We acted in a manner that honored that value for this patient and that also took into account the safety and well-being of the team caring for the patient."

Mayo (which legally can speak about the case because the family signed a waiver authorizing the clinic to do so) added that the situation was complex with many moving parts. It declined to go into detail about the care provided, but insisted the story lacks "further clarification and context" that CNN reporters knew about, but chose not share with their audience.

According to CNN, the authors did have multiple off-the-record conversations with senior Mayo officials prior to publishing the story.

"While we will not discuss specific patients or their families, many who seek Mayo Clinic’s care can also be dealing with significant emotional and family dynamic complications which can be challenging in an already complex medical situation," Mayo said in the statement. "We provided lifesaving care for this patient and made decisions based on what we felt is best for the future of this patient.”

Local reaction

The timing of the report could not come at a more critical time for Mayo. Last Friday, the organization announced the selection of its next chief executive, Dr. Gianrico Farrugia. Tomorrow, U.S. News & World Report is scheduled to release its annual rankings of the best hospitals in the nation. Mayo has finished number one on the list three out of the past four years.

To get a feel for how local readers were responding to the story, we reached out to our Community Advisory Group for perspective.

Some readers mentioned they were troubled by the allegations that Mayo doctors would not allow Alyssa to make her own medical decisions, regardless of their medical opinion on her case. 

"She was still a legal decision maker and technically has the most power in making decisions about her own care," the reader said.

Others defended Mayo's decision-making, noting that the patient may not have had the ability to make the best decisions for her care. "There are two main issues," the reader stated. "1) The patient did not have medical capacity and 2) The family did not have the best interests of the patient in mind and were interfering with her care. Mayo applied for guardianship in order to make medical decisions that serve the best interest of the patient."

Another reader took issue with the style of reporting. The story often relies on dramatic moments that feel more like a movie plot than news reporting.

"This is an incredibly complex and incomplete story that CNN never would have bothered to publish without the sensationalist video."

Regardless of their initial reactions, readers did seem to agree on one thing: that the CNN report leaves as many questions as it provides answers.

"I think the truth, in this case, lies where it usually does — between Mayo's and the family's stories," said a fourth reader.

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