Leaders from the Mayo Clinic, Partners HealthCare, and other large hospital systems have been quietly advising the Trump administration on how to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Mayo Clinic’s chief executive said Thursday in Boston.
“We have been working behind the scenes to help the White House and [former] Secretary Shulkin to help the VA,” Dr. John Noseworthy told business leaders at a meeting of the Boston College Chief Executives Club. “We will continue to provide advice and counsel in the background.”
The VA has been in the spotlight. Ronny Jackson, President Trump’s nominee to lead the agency, withdrew his name Thursday after allegations of overprescribing drugs, drunken behavior, and poor leadership. Jackson called the allegations false.
Trump tapped Jackson after firing David Shulkin as head of the VA last month.
Noseworthy, a neurologist who has led the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic since 2009, is set to retire this year. He didn’t respond directly when an audience member and then a Globe reporter asked whether he would consider the VA secretary’s job.
“The next person to take that on . . . should be someone who truly understands how complex it is,” Noseworthy said. “It’s a very, very tough job.”
Noseworthy and other health care executives, including Partners’ CEO, Dr. David Torchiana, have had conversations with Trump and his associates dating back to at least December 2016, when they flew to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort, to meet with the then president-elect. That meeting included the chiefs of the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Noseworthy said in a brief interview Thursday that he has had “quite a few” conversations with White House and VA officials, including on about four or five occasions speaking with Trump.
“They call us when they have questions, and we always answer immediately,” he said.
Torchiana has been in touch with administration officials but has not had any recent meetings at the White House, according to his spokesman.
“Dr. Torchiana, along with other academic medical center CEOs, was asked to advise the White House related to the NIH [National Institutes in Health] and Veterans Affairs and participated in a few meetings in early 2017,” spokesman Rich Copp said.
The VA was among several topics that came up Thursday at the Boston Harbor Hotel, where Noseworthy was interviewed by Michael Mahoney, chief executive of Boston Scientific Corp., and took questions from the audience.
Noseworthy has roots in Massachusetts. He was born in Melrose and attended St. Mark’s School in Southborough. Years later he did a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School.
Noseworthy has spent about three decades at the Mayo Clinic, which is based in Rochester, Minn., and has hospitals in Arizona and Florida. The organization recorded a gain of $707 million last year, on revenue of about $12 billion.
Mayo competes with hospitals nationally, including with the Partners-owned Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals in Boston. Noseworthy — sitting a few feet from Partners’ Torchiana — mentioned Boston hospitals several times in his remarks.
“I would never want to compete with Man’s Greatest Hospital down the street,” he quipped, using a jocular nickname for MGH.
Noseworthy praised the work done at Partners and Mass. General but said the Mayo Clinic is engineered differently, because it employs a team-based approach to medicine and is based in a small city instead of a hub like Boston or New York.