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CEO of Cleveland Clinic withdraws name from consideration as VA secretary

This post has been updated.

The CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, who was approached by the White House about heading the Department of Veterans Affairs, has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Delos "Toby" Cosgrove said in a statement Saturday that he was "humbled and honored" to have been asked about the post but has decided to stay at the Cleveland Clinic.

"This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision, but I have decided to withdraw from consideration [for] this position and remain at the Cleveland Clinic  due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here," he said in the statement.

Cosgrove, a heart surgeon, served as a surgeon in the Air Force in Da Nang, Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Republic of Vietnam Commendation Medal.

Delos "Toby" Cosgrove, president and chief executive officer of the Cleveland Clinic, at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, last July. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

"I am humbled and honored to have been considered for the opportunity to help Veterans across the United States. This is an enormous responsibility and one that deserved careful thought and consideration. As a physician, veteran, and hospital chief executive, I have great respect for the care provided to the Veteran community and for those who work to care for them," he said in the statement. 

The White House declined to comment on Cosgrove's announcement.

Former VA secretary Eric Shinseki resigned last month after coming under criticism for weeks about the VA's inability to meet the health needs of veterans and alleged efforts by employees to cover up the problems. An independent report put out the week Shinseki resigned showed that 1,700 veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital were placed on secret wait lists and that the average veteran there had to wait an average of 115 days for an appointment.

Sloan Gibson, who served as Shinseki's deputy, is running the agency in the interim.

Cosgrove has run the Cleveland Clinic since 2004. It consistently ranks as one of the nation's best medical centers for quality service and responsiveness to patient needs. It offers same-day appointments to anyone who calls.

Cosgrove visited the White House twice in the past few years, once to discuss the Affordable Care Act with President Obama and a small group of health-care industry officials and again as part of a session organized by the Business Roundtable. Obama visited the Cleveland Clinc in 2009.

A Cleveland Clinic doctor wrote a piece in U.S. News and World Report last month urging the White House to nominate Cosgrove to bring smart management to the agency.

"I do know how to solve the problem,” he wrote. “Just get Toby Cosgrove to lead the VA. (And those of us at the Cleveland Clinic hope he doesn’t accept.)”

According to a report in Modern Healthcare, state inspectors for the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare services threatened to cut off the Cleveland Clinic’s participation in Medicare at least three times over the past few years. One instance led to a citation for a lack of responsiveness into an investigation of claims from a retired Air Force pilot who said the wrong doctor performed his prostate cancer surgery.

According to the report CMS also cited six operating room fires in 2009 and 2010 that injured three people; surgical tools were setting skin antiseptics on fire. One theory for the cause was that operating room humidity wasn’t properly adjusted to conform with fire code.

The violations were all reported to Cosgrove. According to the report he was cited for systemic management failure after not informing patients that a robot would be used in procedures.

Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said in an e-mail that “hospitals now more than ever are under the spotlight for administrative and quality issues” and the checks and balances help hospitals improve. Sheil said the hospital, which has 5 million outpatient visits and 160,000 admissions each year, moved quickly to fix the issues.

“In each situation, we immediately addressed the issues identified and were found to be in compliance. As the vast majority of these related to internal processes, we were able to quickly resolve them,” she wrote. “Some issues were related to patient care and those were also addressed to CMS’s satisfaction.”

Katie Zezima is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 presidential election. She previously served as a White House correspondent for The Post.

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