Dana-Farber says it will avoid ‘controversial venues’ in the future
Tiffany Campbell is what is known at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as a “four-star pacesetter’’ — a top fund-raiser for its annual charity walk. But the longtime volunteer says she will no longer raise money for the hospital, despite the excellent care her husband receives there.
Campbell said she cannot ask friends and relatives to donate anymore, given Dana-Farber’s plan to hold a lavish fund-raiser at the Florida resort of President Trump — a man with whom she adamantly disagrees.
On Thursday, hospital officials moved to quiet the outcry over the event, saying Dana-Farber would avoid “controversial venues’’ in the future.
The decision came amid growing pressure from patients, employees, and medical students — but still fell short of demands that the hospital relocate the party scheduled for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago on Feb. 18.
“Because this event has become such a lightning rod for some, in the future we will avoid controversial venues that may distract from our focus on cancer care and research,’’ said Dana-Farber’s president, Dr. Laurie Glimcher, and board chairman Josh Bekenstein in a written statement.
“We have heard from numerous patients, faculty, staff, students and supporters in the last week, many with strong feelings,’’ they said. “We appreciate their respectful and constructive concern, and recognize that we all are doing what we think is best for the Institute and the mission we share.’’
This year’s gala — donors pay up to $100,000 to attend — was planned months in advance.
Pressure on Dana-Farber to cancel or relocate the party at Trump’s 20-acre oceanfront resort in Palm Beach, Fla., has come from many corners.
In an e-mail to Glimcher last week, Campbell said Trump’s executive order restricting immigration could hurt some of the foreign-born doctors and nurses who work there.
“This is why you should be leading on this issue and fighting back,’’ she wrote.
A US appeals court refused to reinstate the restrictions in Trump’s order Thursday.
An online petition had 2,500 signatures as of Thursday night, including that of Dr. Donald Berwick, former head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Dr. Nancy Berliner, chief of hematology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and of adult hematology at Dana-Farber, and former Dana-Farber trustee Stephen Foster.
The petition organizers plan to hold a protest rally at 1 p.m. Saturday at neighboring Harvard Medical School.
And faculty have tried to persuade Glimcher behind the scenes, including sending a letter urging relocation of the event signed by more than 40 fellows doing advanced training at the hospital.
George Karandinos, one of the organizers and a Harvard medical and doctoral student, said the group applauds Dana-Farber’s change of heart about future years but is disappointed the hospital does not “acknowledge the moral and ethical issues at stake with their decision to conduct business with Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort.’’
He said in an e-mail that Trump’s policy to restrict immigration fulfilled a promise he made as early as December 2015 — and Dana-Farber has already held one fund-raiser at Mar-a-Lago since, in 2016.
“We wish they made a decision that reflected more clearly their moral commitment to their core values of diversity, inclusion, and a commitment to advancing cancer care for all patients,’’ he said.
Dana-Farber raised $2.2 million at last year’s Mar-a-Lago gala, which featured a concert by James Taylor, according to a video on the hospital’s website. The price to attend this year’s 26th annual Discovery Celebration starts at $1,250 for one seat at the event, which includes an “elegant evening of dinner, excitement,’’ and a performance by Emmy Award-winning musician David Foster.
The top contribution of $100,000 buys 10 seats at the celebration and two seats at a dinner the night before, billed as “an intimate evening with Dana-Farber physicians and guest speaker, international journalist and author, Tom Brokaw,’’ according to the hospital’s website.
Phyllis Krock, chairwoman of this year’s event, said “people with many different views about politics come together each year to contribute to the great work of Dana-Farber.”
In a previous statement, Dana-Farber executives said it was essentially too late to cancel the event. “Contracts have been signed, and a large number of people have committed to attend. Cancelling the event outright would only deny much-needed resources for research and care,’’ they said.
Thursday’s statement added another dimension to the decision. Glimcher and Bekenstein said cancellation could itself be seen as a political statement.
“Our decision last year to continue to rent that facility for this long-standing fundraiser was never meant to be, and does not now intend to be, any type of political statement or endorsement of any political figure or policy position,’’ they said. “A decision at this point to cancel, as has been requested by some, would also be seen as a political statement, and again, our goal is to stay out of politics.’’
But Campbell, 42, of Framingham, said there is no way to avoid politics; institutions are taking a stand one way or the other.
She said she believes Trump’s efforts to restrict Muslim immigrants and refugees from entering the United States have been racist, and she doesn’t want to normalize them or to pay money to the businesses he built.
Her husband, Joe Campbell, 40, was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer in 2013, when their son was 2. He was given a year to live and has recently been growing sicker.
Since his diagnosis, she has raised money in the annual Jimmy Fund Walk, usually convincing her friends and family from all over the world to donate between $10,000 and $15,000 a year. She credits the doctors and nurses at Dana-Farber with giving her husband more time with their son. It is a place she associates with complete kindness. That is not a quality she connects with the Trump administration’s ban on refugees or immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries — or with Mar-a-Lago, which he calls his “winter White House.’’
Howard Cloth of Lexington said he also will boycott the Jimmy Fund Walk this year in protest. He has participated for more than 10 years, last year raising $2,100.
“It’s not my intention to have cancer research or cancer patients suffer because of the fallout over Trump’s order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries,’’ he said in an e-mail. “However, institutions I support need to take some moral leadership on this issue — action, or in this case, inaction, has its consequences.’’
Instead, he intends to raise money for cancer treatment and research by participating in a different event.