Cleveland Clinic fascinates me. The banks of the Cuyahoga aren’t where I’d expect one of America’s top-ranked hospital networks to be headquartered, but Cleveland Clinic indisputably is among the best, if not the best, healthcare system. I’m a sucker for hospital rankings and follow them closely. Cleveland Clinic invariably is positioned in the very top tier, including a distinction it would prefer I didn’t mention.
At Cleveland Clinic excellence flows from the top. CEO Tomislav Mihaljevic is an elite cardiac surgeon, having performed more than 3,000 procedures and published more than 140 peer review articles. He holds a patent on a novel system for minimally invasive cardiac surgery. He put himself through medical school in his native Croatia working as a nursing assistant, so he knows first-hand the challenges of lower rung employees. Mihaljevic’s $3 million annual compensation is low by U.S. healthcare standards, underscoring the all-too-often inverse relationship between pay and performance of hospital CEOs.
Mihaljevic marches to the tune of his own drummer. Cleveland Clinic is among the few hospital networks that hasn’t rushed to impose a vaccine requirement for its 69,000 employees at its 24 hospitals. Alicia Reale Cooney, a Cleveland Clinic spokesperson, is quoted in the trade publication Becker’s Hospital Review saying the health system is focusing on encouraging caregivers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, “providing education and making vaccination as accessible as possible.” Reale Cooney said, “as the pandemic evolves, we will continue to monitor the situation.”
As I’ve noted previously, I’m fully vaccinated and will get the recommended booster shot when it becomes available. But I understand and respect those who fear getting the jab, and I oppose on moral and civil liberties grounds any attempts to force someone to get the vaccine either by government edict, or policies that effectively segregate them. I’m especially alarmed by hospital systems that want to force their employees to get vaccinated, particularly those on the front lines. Most U.S. hospitals are already miserable places to work, and vaccine mandates potentially could exacerbate America’s expected nursing shortage.
Common sense suggests to me these employees would be lining up to get jabbed, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. According to this article in WebMd, as of June 28, one in four hospital workers with direct contact to patients remained unvaccinated. At the 50 biggest hospitals, the ratio was one in three.
I confess, it makes me wonder what they possibly know that I don’t. If I knew one in three airplane manufacturing employees refuse to fly on Boeing’s 737 Max, I wouldn’t go near the aircraft, regardless of it getting FDA certification. Forcing healthcare workers to accept medical treatments they feel are ill advised sends a bad message. If healthcare workers aren’t allowed to act on what they believe are their best medical interests, they are being conditioned to remain silent about patient treatments their experience and observation tells them are harmful. Groupthink is not a good thing in medicine.
Cleveland Clinic isn’t alone in its courage to resist jumping on the political expediency bandwagon. Another is Pittsburgh-based UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), which also consistently ranks among America’s best hospital systems. Spokesperson Susan Manko told Becker’s that UPMC will continue its vaccine advocacy and outreach efforts, while continuing “to evaluate how we can further strengthen our protocols, particularly in settings with highly vulnerable populations.”
Another hospital system resisting forced vaccinations is Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine, yet another top-ranked U.S. hospital. At Northwestern, 25 percent of the staff remain unvaccinated.
“For our unvaccinated employees, we are trying to get a better understanding (emphasis mine) of why they have not received the vaccine,” spokesman Chris King told Becker’s. “Is there a medical reason or religious exemption? If those are not the reasons, then we want to create an environment where we can provide information and learning opportunities to educate any employee that may have questions or concerns on being vaccinated.”
I can help Northwestern here. Among the many reasons people are afraid of the vaccines is how poorly and dishonestly the Biden Administration, the CDC, Dr. Fauci, and their corporate media enablers have communicated vaccine benefits and risks and managed expectations.
In the midst of a pandemic, there are lots of unknowns, particularly early on, so what’s deemed the best course of action one day, might be prove the worst the next. Putting COVID patients on ventilators was initially deemed prudent, but with time doctors learned it wasn’t. I’ve seen stories in credible publications that 50 percent or more of the COVID deaths at the beginning of the pandemic could have been avoided if patients hadn’t been put on ventilators. Effectively treating COVID involves lots of trial and error, and the public needs to understand that. The public’s expectations should have been managed from the get-go that doctors were working in unchartered medical territory.
Admittedly, Donald Trump caused considerable communications harm early on, but he’s been gone from office for more than six months. President Biden and the CDC have had sufficient time to repair the damage and chart a new course. They haven’t. Biden and others in his administration, along with the corporate media, have dismissed the unvaccinated as ignorant Trump supporters, when in fact many are Blacks and Hispanics. For the record, Trump is vaccinated and has encouraged his supporters to do the same. He said this weekend that he is “very proud” of his Operation Warp Speed to get the vaccine developed.
Another lie continuously repeated by the Biden Administration and the corporate media is that Trump-supporting publications like Breitbart are responsible for much of the misinformation and fear about the vaccines. Here’s a passage from an August 6 column by John Nolte, among the publication’s most popular writers:
Overall, Biden has undermined confidence in what should be a very easy sell: a modern-day miracle drug that saved our country and countless lives. The vaccine works. It works like gangbusters. From the numbers currently available, we know the vaccinated have more to fear crossing the street than they do from a serious or fatal “breakthrough” infection. We also know the risk of side effects from the vaccine (and all vaccines have side effects) are well within the realm of reasonable and nowhere near the risks that come from not being vaccinated.
There are well credentialed experts who dispute Nolte’s safety claims, and they are being censored in the media at the behest of the government and medical establishment. Censoring credible doctors who challenge prevailing vaccine wisdom is a surefire way to foster more doubt and distrust. A Trafalgar Group survey released last Thursday revealed that 51 percent of Americans don’t believe the government is reporting unbiased information about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Calls to force Americans to get vaccinated fuels more doubt. I read a report published by a group of Israeli doctors, lawyers, and academics concerned about that country’s vaccine rollout arguing that forced vaccinations are illegal under international law.
Vaccines do carry risks, but as I understand it, most medical experts say the benefits far outweigh the risks. That’s not an exceedingly difficult message to communicate, and if President Biden was an inspirational leader, he’d hold a fireside chat and talk openly and honestly about vaccine risks and why getting jabbed is the best-known strategy for the country, but it requires all Americans to do their part. He’d also manage expectations and explain that mass inoculations might not bring an immediate end to the pandemic. It seems obvious that’s far from certain.
I’m doubtful Biden could rise to the occasion. That’s what makes the contrarian policies of the Cleveland Clinic, UPMC, and Northwestern Medicine so critical. A survey by the Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed the public trusts nurses slightly more than doctors and considerably more than the CDC, the Surgeon General, the NIH, and the FDA. The survey indicates the public is intuitively perceptive. On matters of patient safety, nurses are proving themselves the conscious of the healthcare industry. Get most hospital nurses to voluntarily vaccinate and America will have an army of trusted vaccine ambassadors.
In the current political and media climate, it doesn’t take any bravery for a hospital system to unilaterally mandate employees get vaccinated. But it won’t inspire the 30 percent of America’s unvaccinated to get jabbed and likely will have the opposite impact. Resisting mob rule and opting to educate rather than coerce employees takes courage. Hardly a surprise Cleveland Clinic, UPMC, and Northwestern Medicine are three of American’s top hospitals. Their willingness to lead rather than follow is what makes them the best.