Column: ‘Objectivity’ talk doesn’t excuse handling of Alden clinic

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 17, 2002

Mr. Spock is a kind of &uot;hero&uot; of mine. I know that he’s only a fictional character from Star Trek, the first officer of the Starship Enterprise, but since first watching that show in the early 1970s, he has become a kind of role model. Spock keeps his emotions under control, and relies on logic and facts when making choices about his life and the lives of those under his command.

So I can appreciate the Mayo Health System’s use of &uot;objective information&uot; when they decided to close the clinic in Alden. No one capable of thinking logically would insist that an institution rely on any other kind of information when making an important decision. And, naturally, no one would want them to deal with &uot;emotional&uot; information from patients and staff. It’s not as if the decision has any impact on people, right? Nevertheless, I don’t think Mayo is making the best choice.

For one thing, in its decision to close clinics, Mayo is selective in what kinds of &uot;objective&uot; information it relies on. They don’t seem to have considered a number of facts. First, there is no countywide or regional transportation system that can efficiently move people from Alden to Albert Lea and back again. Second, they disregarded the very logical probability that community leaders could have come up with a plan to ensure the long-term profitability of the clinic in Alden. Third, unlike the clinics in Iowa that are being closed, there are no other healthcare providers in the community. Fourth, it shows that Mayo is ignoring the ongoing efforts to attract new residents and businesses to Alden. The decision to close the clinic now will have an &uot;objective&uot; impact on those efforts.

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Mayo also seems to be using the term &uot;objective&uot; as a screen, behind which to hide both its decision and its decision-making process. How does making a decision about something as important as a community’s only clinic without involving staff, patients and community leaders equal &uot;objective&uot; decision-making, unless what they really mean is decision-making at a distance from the people affected?

Is this the way that Mayo physicians are taught to heal their patients: from a distance, using objective criteria, with no emotional bond with their patients or their families? If a family member is ill and others need to decide what to do, are we going to be advised by Mayo physicians to rely solely on the same kinds of &uot;objective information&uot; they used to judge the Alden clinic as we ponder our options?

The last problem I have with Mayo’s decision is the fear that people’s feelings will somehow contaminate the process they used. Mr. Spock from Star Trek may suppress his emotions as he uses logic and objective information when making a decision, but among the lessons he learns as he lives among &uot;emotional&uot; humans, is that emotion does have its place in decision-making, especially when it comes to making decisions that involve people.

Human beings are emotional. We rely on our feelings as we make choices, and denying our feelings means denying our humanity. Taking people out of the equation is one of the greatest flaws in the free market system, a flaw it shares with totalitarian economies. Crushing people’s feelings under the wheels of the corporation is one of the reasons that so many people are having health problems in the first place: Our employers don’t treat us as human beings. To say that emotions are irrelevant is pretty much the same thing as saying that people are irrelevant, and I don’t think that’s a particularly helpful position for a health care provider to take.

Now that we can see what Mayo Health Systems really cares about, should former patients use objective criteria as we decide whether to allow Mayo scientists to continue using our medical records as they conduct research on health and disease? After all, they’re bound to profit from the results of the research, and we have to pay to record the information in our medical records.

I no longer have quite the same feelings about my healthcare provider as I did a couple of months ago. It looks to me, relying both on objective information and my feelings, that they are more concerned with their own bottom line than they are in helping build healthier communities.

David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident.