Cleveland Clinic won't move Mar-a-Lago event despite protest

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A leading U.S. hospital has decided it won't move its annual fundraiser away from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort despite pressure from health professionals and others over the president's support for repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The Cleveland Clinic said donors and hospital executives in Ohio and Florida reviewed the request and decided against changing the venue.

Spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said the event raises between $700,000 and $1 million annually to expand programs and purchase equipment for the hospital's Florida facility. It's been held at Mar-a-Lago the last eight years, she said.

"For us, this is more about raising money to help our clinical programs and patient care," Sheil said. "This is not a political statement by the Cleveland Clinic by any means."

A public letter seeking relocation of the event has quickly collected more than 1,100 signatures from doctors, nurses, medical students and other Ohio residents concerned about the nation's No. 2-ranked hospital patronizing a Trump business.

A Columbus cardiologist who signed it says Cleveland Clinic is a thought leader in medicine and Trump's support for repealing the Affordable Care Act goes against its core principles supporting science, research and integrity.

"The Cleveland Clinic has always been a bastion of science, of research and of integrity," said Greg Lam, a member of the Physicians Action Network. "When the founders established the Cleveland Clinic in 1921, it was based on the principles of diversity, integrity, research and facts. And that's completely antithetical to what Donald Trump represents."

The letter says the hospital's support for the Trump Organization is unacceptable "because it symbolically and financially supports a politician actively working to decrease access to healthcare and cut billiions of dollars in research funding from the National Institutes of Health budget."

The American Red Cross faced similar pushback in January, when demonstrators rallied outside its annual fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago as the worldwide humanitarian relief organization was offering aid to those affected by Trump's moratorium on the U.S. refugee program.

Sheil said the hospital didn't make the decision lightly.

"We did really listen to the community and we did consider other options for the event this year, but, in the end, the decision was made to stay at Mar-a-Lago, because the venue is appropriate for the size of the event that we have," she said.

She said the hospital has a pending contract for the event, scheduled for Feb. 24, but it has not yet been signed.

"Obviously, we deeply care about health care coverage and health care reform and doing the right thing for citizens of the U.S.," Sheil said. "But, for us, that's a separate issue that we are doing different efforts for, to influence however we can."

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