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Bullet by bullet, Mayo Clinic refutes claims made in 'sensational' CNN report

Bullet by bullet, Mayo Clinic refutes claims made in 'sensational' CNN report

Mayo Clinic took the extraordinary move late Wednesday of responding aggressively to what it describes as "inaccurate, incomplete and irresponsible reporting" from CNN, one of the nation's largest news outlets.

In a letter to CNN leadership, Mayo asserted that reporters Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield ignored the details of a "complex situation involving a vulnerable adult in a suspected abusive family environment."

"As an organization, we value the role of the news media and do not expect unanimously favorable coverage of Mayo Clinic; our goal is to earn it," said Chris Gade, chair of Mayo's Department of Public Affairs. "But, what we do expect is accurate and fair reporting. For 18 months, we shared information to help the CNN reporters investigate the facts of the situation. They clearly understood our concern for the patient’s safety, they chose to ignore those concerns and did not check or report on public records associated with this case right up to the point the story aired/was published."

Absent from the two-part CNN report, for instance, are court filings documenting recent accusations of abuse by the patient's mother. MPR News reported Wednesday that a judge in Martin County, located about two hours west of Rochester, issued an order last month removing the patient's five younger half-siblings from her mother's care. The filing cited reports of neglect, along with physical and emotional abuse.

Related: Our report from Monday with a breakdown of events

But Gade said the CNN reporters were committed to a pre-determined view of events, which date back to 2017, despite contrary facts. He also accused the reporters of "contacting direct patient care staff with veiled threats and asking them to breach confidentiality in order to corroborate information." 

The letter from Gade included a dozen bullet points outlining concerns it had with the report. According to Mayo, the reporters chose to disregard and not investigate facts that were shared with them in off-the-record meetings.

[read the full letter here]

Below is the list of what Mayo cites as inaccuracies in CNN's reporting:

  • The role of the biological father in making care decisions for his daughter during her hospital stay when the mother was unavailable.
  • Allegations of the mother’s abuse of the patient.
  • Mayo reported suspected abuse of the patient, a vulnerable adult, to the County as part of our statutory reporting requirement; and reported again when the patient was removed from the hospital without a safe discharge plan.
  • Mayo never sought to be appointed as a guardian or make decisions for the patient; instead, Mayo notified the County of the patient’s vulnerable adult status and asked for assistance in identifying a decision-maker.
  • Mayo never denied a request from the family to transfer the patient to a different facility.
  • Mayo did not arbitrarily remove the mother from the hospital; instead she was removed after she exhibited escalating disruptive and aggressive behavior that interfered with the care of her daughter and resulted in multiple staff members reporting fear for their safety. A team of Mayo staff members also met with the mother and stepfather to explain why she was removed and they expressed understanding.
  • Our care team provided appropriate pain management according to the pain needs of the patient and was concerned when the mother requested opioids for her daughter so that the mother could get some sleep.

Mayo said the "egregious errors" in the story left the clinic with no choice but to share additional information about the circumstances. "This is a decision we do not take lightly, and it is highly unusual for us," a news release said.

On Monday, CNN published allegations from a family accusing the clinic of "medical kidnapping" a teen patient following brain surgery. The report aired repeatedly on the network and was throughout the day featured as the top story on its website homepage. Mayo initially criticized the report, but did not address the situation in detail until today.

CNN has not responded directly to our request for comment.

On Friday, though, the network defended its reporting — saying Mayo's responses misrepresent several facts. "Mayo's criticisms of CNN reveal its own inaccurate and inconsistent statements about what happened," CNN said, in part. You can read the full response from CNN here.

Cover photo by Med City Beat

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