Mayo Clinic is one of the world’s most-respected medical institutions, and generations of its leaders have fiercely protected and furthered that reputation. That’s why it’s so hard to understand how a self-inflicted public relations blunder occurred Tuesday with the apparent consent of its current president and CEO, Dr. Gianrico Farrugia.
Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the Rochester, Minn., medical center to laud its COVID-19 response garnered national coverage. What should have been a slam-dunk to polish Mayo’s trusted name instead raised unnecessary questions about its institutional values.
Pence, as many readers have realized by now, didn’t wear a mask as he toured the sprawling medical center, visiting with doctors, walking through a lab and elbow-bumping a Mayo employee donating blood plasma. Photos of the vice presidential entourage — which included Farrugia and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz — suggest that Pence was the only one not to follow Mayo’s request that all visitors wear masks.
An official Mayo social-media account said Pence had been advised of the mask policy before his visit, but the tweet was then deleted. It’s frustrating that Pence chose not to comply. Even if he is frequently tested for COVID-19 and doesn’t have it (as he later explained to reporters), testing isn’t 100% accurate.
Strong leaders also model good behavior. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that members of the public wear face masks. That, and respecting Mayo’s policy, should have been more than enough reason for Pence to don one.
But Mayo’s decision not to enforce its mask policy is even more disturbing. It has many prominent visitors and patients. Is there one set of rules for them and a different set for regular clients who don’t fly in on private jets?
It’s disappointing that this question even has to be raised. Farrugia, as Mayo’s CEO, should have enforced the mask policy. Doing so was in the best interest of Mayo’s patients and the loved ones who accompany them. That’s all that should have mattered.
What should have been a stellar day at Mayo instead showed that poor judgment can be infectious. Pence made one mistake, and then Farrugia made another.