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In Conversation: Cleveland Clinic’s Centennial with Paul Matsen

February 22, 2021 • History Factory

Ahead of Cleveland Clinic’s Founders Day on Friday, February 26, History Factory Plugged in welcomed Paul Matsen, chief marketing and communications officer of the health care facility, to discuss the organization’s centennial plans. Read an excerpt here or listen to the full episode for more information.

Jason Dressel: Paul, thank you so much for joining the podcast.

Paul Matsen: Jason, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

JD: Well, first, happy 100th anniversary to Cleveland Clinic. If we can, Paul, let’s provide for our listeners a little background on Cleveland Clinic.

PM: Cleveland Clinic is an academic medical center, multi-specialty health care organization, and what we would call an integrated delivery system. We have 19 hospitals. Over 70,000 caregivers are employed at the Cleveland Clinic, with our main campus and main operations being in Ohio. But we also have five hospitals in Florida, offices in Nevada, Toronto. We have a multi-specialty hospital in Abu Dhabi in partnership with Mubadala and the government of Abu Dhabi. And we’re building a hospital in London that will open at the end of our centennial year, at the beginning of 2022. And we’re probably most known for our heart care. That’s really what made Cleveland Clinic famous.

JD: Great. And what were some of the other big innovations and breakthroughs the Cleveland Clinic was known for?

PM: Well, it does start with cardiovascular care. And most famously, Mason Sones, who was a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, discovered cardio angiography at the Cleveland Clinic in 1958. That was followed in 1967 by probably the most famous procedure at the Cleveland Clinic. A physician named René Favaloro pioneered cardio artery bypass surgery, grafting veins from the leg to a coronary artery to improve blood flow to the heart. And, of course, hundreds of thousands of these surgeries have been performed around the world, saving lives ever since then. Perhaps in most recent years, we were known mostly for the being the center in the United States that did the first full face transplant back in 2008. We have followed up with additional face transplants that have been quite remarkable and really just incredibly innovative in the technology and teamwork required.

JD: And I’m glad you mentioned teamwork, Paul, because one of the things that I found really fascinating in learning about Cleveland Clinic is essentially the origin story, this group of doctors who were World War I veterans who I guess really enjoyed working together under really difficult circumstances and shared a unique founding vision.

PM: You know, the origin story of the Cleveland Clinic is incredibly powerful and still relevant today. One of our goals is to use the centennial really to revive an active memory of our history and keep that in front of our caregivers going forward. George Washington Crile was the founder of the Cleveland Clinic. He and his three partners, several of them started practicing in Cleveland prior to World War I, their partnership was cemented in the battlefields of France. They went to France together as part of a medical unit from Cleveland, Ohio, and saw all the horrors that particularly brutal war created. And they learned working together, they had different backgrounds and different medical specialties, that they were better practicing together, they could share their knowledge and improve the quality of care being given. And that wasn’t the norm in health care at that time in the United States. In fact, it was a pretty radical concept. So, when they returned from a war, they decided to set up a group practice for physicians that became the Cleveland Clinic.

JD: Awesome. I alluded to this before, but obviously for all organizations such as yourselves that that are celebrating an ananiversary during this time, it’s a bit different than probably what you expected or anticipated.

It makes me think, you know, this organization and its history has overcome adversity before and dealt with adversity before. The founders had to deal with the worst fire in the history of health care in 1929, of course, the start of the Great Depression, just eight years after the founding. There was a fire in the clinic building here, and it had multiple fatalities. It was a national story. And actually, one of our founders died in the fire. The founders easily could have closed the clinic and gone their separate ways, but they didn’t. They raised money from the community and their own personal savings, restarted started the clinic and in fact, were doing surgeries again that same week.

So fast forward to 2020. It was just a year ago that we were hearing about the first patients around the world with COVID. Our response team was monitoring the virus from the beginning. Our incident command center was preparing for that inevitable arrival of the virus in Ohio. And we went through some incredible changes. I mean, our teams were literally working seven days a week, around the clock. But it’s that resiliency and teamwork that really defines Cleveland Clinic and goes all the way back to our founders and is in the DNA of the organization. We’ve worked hard to manage the surges, to educate the public about staying safe, implement testing and now onto the vaccine. And we’re fortunate as we sit here today, our numbers are falling and we’re seeing positive trends.

So, you know, we’re optimistic but vigilant about what may come down the road. So, it’s been quite a year. And, you know, our team always kept the centennial preparations going despite everything else that was going on. I’m really proud of that.

JD: Yeah, well said. Over the last year, you know, I’ve talked to so many different organizations that have shared how this experience has essentially changed how they are going to do a number of things going forward. And I’m curious from your perspective, Paul, do you anticipate implementing a lot of these changes moving forward?

PM: I was on a conference call with an executive from Microsoft. Someone asked him, “When will everything return to normal?” And he said, “Well, things will never return to normal. They’ll be, to use the phrase, ‘a new normal.’” He said, “We’ve learned a lot of positive things about doing work virtually, and virtual events can be much more inclusive.” So, we may miss the camaraderie of most of us being in a room together, but we’ll have to remember going forward that being virtually in the meeting when you’re in a different part of the world puts you on equal footing with everybody else. So, we’re already talking about how do we preserve that going forward? We’ll move to a hybrid work environment in the future. We’ve given our people the tools to do virtual work that we didn’t have before.

JD: As you look at sort of the future of the clinic, what do you see on the horizon?

PM: We still have an ambitious strategy for the future to expand our mission by doubling the number of patients we serve in the next five years. So, we never stopped the construction in London. We’re extremely excited about that. And kudos to the team, they kept that project moving forward. It’ll really be the capstone of our centennial year. We have several new growth projects that I expect will be announced in 2021.

JD: Yeah. How else from a marketing perspective have you and your team approached the centennial?

PM: So, Jason, you know, we’ve been working diligently on Centennial for three years. We started planning very early. I think for us, we understood the magnitude of this event for the organization, and we wanted to plan properly and do it in a way that would really celebrate appropriately the heritage of the organization. We came up with a brand slogan for the centennial year, “The Future of Healthcare Since 1921.” People really embraced that line because it speaks to our culture and the spirit of innovation that goes back to the founders.

We have a docuseries that we’re going to debut on our Founders Day that we’ve done in partnership with Courageous Studios of CNN. We’ve rewritten our history book to act as a unit of Cleveland Clinic. We’re doing a visual book as a commemorative of the centennial as well. The Founders Day event itself, which will be a worldwide celebration premiering the docuseries. We’ve built the digital history timeline for the Cleveland Clinic, which will be a legacy item that will keep our history alive digitally going forward. And then we’re going to build one other legacy item, an interactive exhibit in our main lobby of the Cleveland Clinic done in partnership with our alumni. It’s just such a cool concept in interactive technology.

And then, I don’t want to forget we’ll be celebrating virtually and in other ways with our community and with our caregivers throughout the year. We’re providing local tools to all of our locations because it’s not just about celebrating the founding here in our main campus, but across our entire system.

JD: Right, and what advice might you offer to anyone who’s going through an anniversary in the next few years?

PM: Yeah, start early. It can be a daunting task and it’s important to have a plan. Not only did we put a strong plan together, but we took it to the executive team, and we secured funding. That sounds so mundane. But to have the kind of legacy projects that I’m talking about, we needed incremental funding, and the leadership team fully supported that. Our CEO has been our biggest supporter.

We found the right partners. We couldn’t do it all ourselves because we’re still doing all of our regular work throughout the process. So really leveraging, finding that expertise. And then lastly, you have to stay vigilant. I talked about the fact that I can’t understate how proud I am of the team, that we could go through the worst global pandemic in history and arrive at our centennial Founders Day with everything on track. That is quite an accomplishment.

JD: Yeah, well said. Well, congratulations, Paul.

History Factory Plugged In · Ep. 29: Cleveland Clinic’s Centennial

 

 

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