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War of words continues between Mayo and CNN over 'medical kidnapping' report

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The Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building
Pedestrians cross the street as they leave Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building in 2016.
Alex Kolyer for MPR News

The war of words between CNN and Mayo Clinic continued Friday after the Atlanta-based news network issued a lengthy defense of its two-part series on a patient who said she was "medically kidnapped" by the Rochester hospital.

In a  statement  posted early Friday on its website, CNN wrote that  Mayo's response  earlier this week to the network's report "misrepresents several facts."

Among them: CNN disputes Mayo's opinion that the news network was committed to a "pre-determined narrative" that favored the mother and patient's story over facts Mayo presented to CNN over the course of many months.

"CNN did not have a 'firm commitment to a pre-determined narrative,'" the network countered in the statement. "CNN spent more than 17 months reporting this story, exploring every angle and accusation made by the family."

 CNN: reviewed public reports, conducted many interviews

CNN said its reporters reviewed multiple law enforcement documents, interviewed law enforcement officers, scoured the patient's medical records, interviewed lawyers and ethicists, and spoke with members of the patient's family.

In response to the CNN statement, Mayo spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said the medical center stands by its statements, which included calling the CNN story "inaccurate, incomplete and irresponsible."

"What we do agree on is that the heart of this is a vulnerable patient," Plumbo said in an interview with MPR News. "That is the very reason why, from the very beginning, starting 18 months ago, we had hoped CNN would not do this story. (The patient) has had a very difficult past, and we didn't feel like airing that on any news broadcast would be in her best interest."

The CNN story centered on a then 18-year-old female patient who was admitted to Mayo in December of 2016 after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm.

 Narrative is complex

From there, the story gets complicated.  

The patient and her family told CNN that they were unhappy with care and wanted a transfer, which they said Mayo refused. The patient's mother told CNN she was barred from the hospital unfairly, and that Mayo sought court-appointed guardianship of her daughter. The family came up with an elaborate escape for the patient in February of 2017, which was caught on videotape.

Mayo said the family did not request a transfer until the day before the patient left and that the mother was asked to leave due to physically and verbally aggressive behavior toward hospital staff. 

A family member twice reported the mother abused the patient and the patient's medical record included a history of abuse by the mother and other members of her family, which is among the reasons Mayo said it asked county officials to intervene and appoint a guardian for the patient. After multiple brain surgeries, the patient was not able to make complex medical decisions for herself, Mayo said. 

 New court documents reveal judge removed underage children from mother's care

After the CNN report published on air and on its website, MPR News began its own reporting into the allegations. 

Independent of Mayo, MPR News found court documents that a Martin County judge ordered the mother's five younger children removed from her care in July 2018 after allegations were raised of neglect, physical and emotional abuse. The mother tested positive for methamphetamines and amphetamines when a county official visited her home in Sherburn to investigate child abuse reports.

MPR News is not naming the patient to protect her and the children in her family. MPR News is also not naming her parents because doing so could identify the children.  

The patient's step-father, who is the five younger children's biological parent, has separated from the mother and is taking care of the younger children. 

He said he never saw the mother abuse her oldest child, the Mayo patient, and that he stands by the CNN story.