Hundreds of medical professionals are calling on the prominent Cleveland Clinic hospital system to cut its perceived ties to President Trump in light of a contentious executive order that has temporarily banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering or returning to the United States — including a resident at the clinic.
Doctors, nurses and students have signed an open letter pleading with the clinic to publicly condemn Trump's immigration ban and use its power to protect medical professionals from deportation. The letter also urges the hospital system to cancel a fundraiser set for later this month at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.
“Through this action you are supporting a president who has, in his first ten days in office, reinstated the global gag rule, weakened the Affordable Care Act, fast-tracked construction of both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines through legally protected native lands, and banned legal U.S. residents from majority-Muslim countries,” the signers said about the Cleveland Clinic's upcoming fundraiser. “All of these actions directly harm human health and well-being in the United States and abroad.
“Your willingness to hold your fundraiser at a Trump resort is an unconscionable prioritization of profit over people. It is impossible for the Cleveland Clinic to reconcile supporting its employees and patients while simultaneously financially and publicly aiding an individual who directly harms them.”
As of Friday morning, the letter had 1,141 signatories.
Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said the hospital system is “fully committed to the safe return of our employee who was denied entry into the United States. We are incredibly proud of our highly diverse workforce and patient population, a core part of our culture and history. Please know that the sole purpose of our event in Florida is to raise funds for important research ... The event has been held there for years, well before the election.”
As controversy swirled around the clinic and its fundraiser, representatives of seven major medical organizations also protested the Trump administration's immigration order.
In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, representatives of Massachusetts General Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medicine, the University of Michigan Health System and the University of California at San Francisco, among others, called the ban “a step backward” for patient care, research and medical education in the United States.
“The free exchange of ideas, experience, and perspectives is fundamental to patient care, training, and research. Patient care depends on good decision making, a process that can be derailed by bias and strengthened by diverse teams,” they wrote. In 2016, they noted, more than half of the 7,024 of U.S. internal medicine residents — doctors in training at teaching hospitals — came from medical schools outside the country. A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges shows that 260 students from schools in the seven countries affected by the ban are applying for residency training now, they said.
“Immigration policy that blocks the best from coming to train and work in the United States and blocks our trainees and faculty from safely traveling to other countries is a step backward, one that will harm our patients, colleagues, and America’s position as a world leader in health care and innovation,” they wrote.
In another letter to Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest doctors group, voiced concern that “this executive order is negatively impacting patient access to care and creating unintended consequences for our nation’s health care system.”
James L. Madara, the organization’s chief executive, noted that a quarter of doctors in the United States graduated from an overseas medical school and that they are “more likely to practice in underserved and poor communities, and to fill training positions in primary care and other specialties that face significant workforce shortages.”
Clarification of the order is urgently needed to ensure that it does not threaten the March “match day” when medical school graduates are assigned to training programs around the United States, Madara wrote.
The turmoil over the Cleveland Clinic seems to arise from its perceived ties to Trump.
Cleveland Clinic chief executive Toby Cosgrove is on an advisory council for the White House, along with several others, including executives from Walmart, JPMorgan Chase and General Electric, according to STAT News. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick quit President Trump’s council Thursday amid boycott calls. The council is scheduled to meet Friday.
The Cleveland Clinic fundraiser, “Reflections of Versailles: A Night in the Hall of Mirrors,” is scheduled for Feb. 25 at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. The Cleveland Clinic has not responded to a request for comment, but hospital spokeswoman Eileen Sheil told STAT News that the event, which “raises money to advance cardiovascular medicine,” is still on.
Several other medical institutions — which have been affected by Trump's executive order — also are planning to hold fundraisers this month at his resort.
The call to cancel the Cleveland Clinic event comes just days after a 26-year-old medical resident at the clinic was stopped at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and sent back to Saudi Arabia, where she was born.
Her passport is from Sudan, according to ProPublica, an independent investigative journalism organization. Sudan is one of seven countries included in the president's executive order on immigration; the others are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Suha Abushamma, who is in the internal medicine residency program at the Cleveland Clinic, said in an interview with ProPublica that she had gone to spend time with family in Saudi Arabia and then onto Sudan, when she heard rumors about a possible travel ban. She cut her trip short and returned to the United States on Saturday. But at John F. Kennedy airport, Customs and Border Protection agents stopped her and told her she either had to leave on her own or she would be removed from the country.
“I’m only in this country to be a doctor, to work and to help people — that’s it,” she told ProPublica on her way back to Saudi Arabia. “There’s no other reason.”
Abushamma has since filed a lawsuit against the president, claiming that she was unlawfully detained and then misled and coerced into signing away her visa.
The CBP agents did not tell her and she did not understand that she was actually signing a Form I-275, Withdrawal of Application for Admission/Consular Notification (“Form I-275"). No one told her that upon signing the form, her valid H-1B visa would purportedly be cancelled.
Instead, CBP agents falsely told Dr. Abushamma that if she did not sign the form, she would be forcibly removed from the United States and banned from reentry for five years.
Abushamma was neither allowed to speak with her attorney nor would Customs and Border Protection agents speak with the attorney, according to the lawsuit.
About 7 p.m. Saturday, Abushamma, who had been texting with her attorney, David Leopold, sent him a message, “I'm going. I don't have a choice,” according to the lawsuit. Leopold reportedly told her that her attorneys were in the process of filing a writ of habeas corpus on her behalf. The lawsuit states that she replied: “I do not have the option. It's leave voluntarily or by force that's all.”
Ultimately, Abushamma signed the form and was put on a plane.
A few dozen doctors from the Cleveland Clinic crowded outside the facilities Thursday, silently protesting Abushamma's deportation, carrying photos of the medical resident and signs reading, "#BringSuhaBack,” according to Cleveland.com.
The Cleveland Clinic has not publicly mentioned Abushamma by name but said that Trump's executive order “has caused a great deal of uncertainty and has impacted some of our employees who are traveling overseas.”
“We deeply care about all of our employees and are fully committed to the safe return of those who have been affected by this action,” it said earlier in a statement.
The Cleveland Clinic was in the news last month when one of its doctors went on an anti-vaccine rant in a column on Cleveland.com, claiming a flu shot made him ill.
On Thursday, the government agreed to allow another medical resident, Amer al-Homssi, a first-year resident in the Chicago area and a Syrian national, back into the United States a day after his attorney filed suit in federal court.
Al-Homssi, who is training at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., had been stuck in Abu Dhabi, where he had traveled to get married.