August 18, 2017

After Charlottesville comments, some health care organizations reduce ties to President Trump

Daily Briefing

    Several health care organizations have scaled back their ties to President Trump, either in government or through his personal businesses, after Trump's remarks on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.

    Background on the president's remarks

    On Saturday, self-identified white nationalists, Nazi supporters, and "alt-right" supporters held a "Unite the Right" rally to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Counter-protestors demonstrated against the rally. During the protest on Saturday, a man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman—Heather Heyer—and injuring 19 others. Attorney General Jeff Sessions characterized the attack as "domestic terrorism."

    At an initial news conference following Heyer's death, Trump told reporters, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country. ... It has no place in America."

    Some observers criticized Trump's initial comments for not explicitly condemning the far right and white nationalists. Since the first press conference, Trump has continued to speak about the violence, taking a harder line against the white supremacist movement on Monday, but on Tuesday reiterating that "both sides" were responsible for the violence. According to the New York Times, the statements again drew criticism from lawmakers and other public figures, including stakeholders in the health care industry.

    Trump disbands advisory councils that included health care leaders

    Across the week, public attention focused on how the members of two White House advisory councils, the Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum, responded to the president's remarks.

    Merck CEO and Chair Kenneth Frazier was the first to step down from the Manufacturing Council on Monday, citing Trump's response to the Charlottesville violence. He was followed that same day by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Afterward, several other executives left the councils, including Alex Gorsky, chair and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, who on Wednesday said, "The President's most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council."

    On Wednesday, Trump in a tweet announced that he had disbanded the two councils. "Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!" Trump tweeted.

    According to the New York Times, Trump's tweet came shortly after members of the Strategic and Policy Forum—which included Cleveland Clinic President and CEO Toby Cosgrove and IBM Chair, President, and CEO Ginni Rometty—decided to dissolve the group. The Manufacturing Council also held a call Wednesday during which they also decided to dissolve their group, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    Cleveland Clinic, other health organizations move annual Mar-a-Lago fundraisers

    The Cleveland Clinic and the American Cancer Society (ACS) on Thursday announced they would not hold fundraisers at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, joining several other organizations that in recent months have opted to withdraw their events from the resort.

    According to STAT News, the Clinic has held an annual fundraiser at the Florida resort for the past eight years. Earlier this year, some called on the Clinic to move the annual fundraiser to a different location after the Trump administration issued an executive order on immigration that affected certain medical professionals from returning to the country. More recently, about 1,700 physicians, nurses, medical students and Ohio residents signed a letter of concern on the Clinic's decision to host its fundraiser at the resort, citing Trump's support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and other political efforts.

    In its announcement on Thursday, the Clinic did not provide a reasoning for its decision, saying only, "After careful consideration, Cleveland Clinic has decided that it will not hold a Florida fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in 2018." When the Washington Post sought further comment, Clinic spokesperson Eileen Sheil said "there were a variety of factors" behind the decision, but that the organization would "not elaborat[e]."

    Separately, shortly after the Clinic said it would move its fundraiser, the ACS—which has been a member of the Mar-a-Lago club since "at least 2009"—said it too would move its fundraiser elsewhere. "Our values and commitment to diversity are critical as we work to address the impact of cancer in every community," ACS officials said. "It has become increasingly clear that the challenge to those values is outweighing other business considerations."

    A third organization—the American Friends of Magen David Adom, which raises money for Israel's version of the Red Cross, according to the Post—similarly said it would not hold its 2018 fundraiser at the Mar-a-Lago resort. Officials for the organization did not provide a reason, but said they reached their decision "after considerable deliberation."

    According to the Post, at least seven other organizations that have used the resort in the past have also announced over the past few months that they would be holding their events in other locations, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Those organizations have cited a variety of reasons for their decisions, including political differences and security issues, the Post reports (AP/Modern Healthcare, 8/16; Gelles et al., New York Times, 8/16; Shear/Haberman, New York Times, 8/15;  Rappleye, Becker's Hospital Review, 8/16; Diamond, Politico, 8/16; Glazer et al., Wall Journal Street, 8/16; Ross, STAT News, 8/17; Harwell/Fahrenthold, Washington Post, 8/17; AP/Modern Healthcare, 8/17; MacDonald, FierceHealthcare, 8/17).

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