CNN defends reporting of Mayo Clinic patient escape story

CNN published a statement Aug. 17 standing by its previous reporting about a then-18-year-old patient who "escaped" Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic in 2017 after caregivers allegedly refused to let her leave.

The statement is a direct response to criticisms issued by the Mayo Clinic Aug. 16 commenting on CNN's "inaccurate, incomplete and irresponsible" story regarding the alleged treatment of Alyssa Gilderhus, now 20.

According to CNN, the Mayo Clinic "refuses to acknowledge that the patient in this story, Alyssa Gilderhus, an adult, asked to be transferred. … Mayo claims that it had no idea Alyssa wanted to leave Mayo, even though there's written proof that she did, and Mayo had access to those writings."

The publication also contends Mayo Clinic "completely misrepresents the nature of a meeting held between CNN staffers and Mayo staffers in March," and that the health system refuses to acknowledge that Ms. Gilderhus did not need to remain hospitalized like Mayo claimed. Roughly two years after suffering a brain aneurysm that landed her in the hospital, Ms. Gilderhus told CNN she is flourishing and no longer needs rehabilitation.

Here are six responses CNN made to the Mayo Clinic's criticisms:

  • Reporters Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield met with Mayo Clinic representatives on March 28 at the health system's headquarters to discuss the case. After the release of CNN's Aug. 13 story, Mayo officials said the four-hour meeting had been on the record. However, CNN claims it has written proof that before the story was published Mayo demanded the meeting be considered off the record, and that information obtained during the meeting should not be reported publicly.

  • CNN claims that during the meeting, Mayo Clinic officials repeatedly made factual errors regarding Ms. Gilderhus' case, including allegedly refusing to take seriously a letter from her lawyer advocating for her release; repeatedly addressing Ms. Gilderhus as a "kid" unable to make her own medical decisions despite the fact that she was 18 at the time; and not attempting to use a medical ethics committee to resolve the dispute despite the fact that the use of one is required by hospital rules for similar situations.

  • After the meeting, Ms. Gilderhus reportedly told CNN she had signed a HIPAA consent form that allowed Mayo to put the information discussed during the meeting on the record and make it public. When CNN initially asked to make the information public, Mayo consented. However, roughly one month after the meeting, Mayo rescinded and said the information was not to be made public, according to published emails between CNN and the Mayo Clinic.

  • The publication claims Mayo Clinic continues to focus on what officials perceive to be inappropriate behavior by Ms. Gilderhus' mother, instead of on the allegations that Ms. Gilderhus' rights as an adult patient has been violated, which led to her "escape." Mayo Clinic claimed Ms. Gilderhus' mother acted aggressively toward staff, but denied allegations they sought to remove Ms. Gilderhus' mother as her legal guardian.

  • The health system also said CNN "failed to acknowledge the role of the biological father in making care decisions for his daughter during her hospital stay when the mother was unavailable." However, when officials were asked if they were aware of Ms. Gilderhus' biological father's criminal record, they reportedly did not respond.

  • On Aug. 16, Ms. Gilderhus expressed sadness to CNN that the hospital system continued to disparage her mother and her family.

    "This is about me, not my mother," she said. "[Mayo Clinic is] trying to create a smokescreen. I wish they would stop. This is my life. And instead of treating me like a human being, they're treating me like an object."

Mayo Clinic released a statement Aug. 17 in response to CNN's comments, saying "a prolonged public debate is not in the best interest of the patient or our staff." 

"At the heart of this matter is a vulnerable patient," Charles Harper, MD, executive dean for practice at Mayo Clinic, said in the statement. "Mayo Clinic firmly stands behind our statements regarding care of this patient and our interactions with CNN. Our thorough, internal review determined that the care team's actions, in addition to being lifesaving, were true to Mayo's primary value and we fully support the actions of our staff."

To view Mayo Clinic's full statement and reiteration of key facts, click here.

 To access the full CNN report, click here.

Editor's note: This article was updated Aug. 21 to include additional information from Mayo Clinic.

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