7 thoughts on Mayo's philanthropy, controversies and future from retiring CEO Dr. John Noseworthy

John Noseworthy, MD, will retire at year's end after spending nine years as president and CEO of Mayo Clinic. In a sweeping profile story with the Star Tribune, the outgoing leader of the healthcare giant reflected on his tenure – and the challenges, controversies and strategic initiatives that peppered it. 


Seven takeaways from the profile: 

1. Dr. Noseworthy began practicing medicine at Mayo in 1990, chaired the neurology department from 1997 to 2006, and became medical director of the clinic's development department. The position brought him closer to fundraising and required work with benefactors, which is unfamiliar territory to most physicians. Philanthropy has since become one of Dr. Noseworthy's signature strengths. During his tenure as CEO, Mayo's largest campaign raised more than $3.5 billion.

2. Under Dr. Noseworthy, Mayo posted average net income of more than $500 million per year. Its financial health was accompanied with public setbacks, however, including perceptions of elitism and concern among state officials that Mayo prioritized privately insured patients over those with Medicare and Medicaid coverage. 

3. Dr. Noseworthy made remarks that contributed to each of these separate controversies. He told state lawmakers that 49 states would eagerly host Mayo's $585 million destination medical center project if the state did not secure taxpayer support of infrastructure projects. In a separate instance, he told employees via a video memo that Mayo would give preference in certain circumstances to patients with private insurance over those with lower-paying Medicaid or Medicare coverage for equivalent, non-emergency conditions.

4. Reflecting on these incidents, Dr. Noseworthy said his comment about 49 states welcoming Mayo was not meant as a suggestion that Mayo would exit Minnesota. He also regrets his word choice in when commenting about prioritizing commercially versus governmentally insured and stressed that over half of Mayo's services are rendered to patients with Medicare or Medicaid coverage. 

5. Dr. Noseworthy also addressed problems that surfaced in 2017 after the clinic unveiled plans to close the maternity and inpatient surgery units of its hospital in Albert Lea, Minn., which is part of Mayo's multistate provider network. Mayo said it was transitioning the services to its hospital in Austin, which is 23 miles away. Dr. Noseworthy notes he should have provided a better explanation of the need for change in Albert Lea, but still believes the change in services was the right decision.

6. During Dr. Noseworthy's tenure, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit called Minnesota Community Measurement began publishing annual reports that pinned Mayo with the highest total cost of care among all healthcare groups in the state. In the Star Tribune profile, the outgoing CEO insists the ratings' methodology doesn't adequately adjust for the patient population, which includes patients that other centers would rather not treat because their cases are too complex. "The science of measuring quality and value is in its infancy," he noted.

7. Gianrico Farrugia, MD, will succeed Dr. Noseworthy in January. He previously served as CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida. "The table is set for him. The organization is ready," Dr. Noseworthy said. He will retire, as former CEOs don't remain on the board of directors at Mayo, and he does not plan on practicing medicine again. 

Read the full profile of Dr. Noseworthy from the Star Tribune.

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