So Long, Big Mac: Cleveland Clinic Ousts McDonald's From Cafeteria

So Long, Big Mac: Cleveland Clinic Ousts McDonald's From Cafeteria

6:52pm Aug 19, 2015
The McDonald's inside the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, in 2004.
The McDonald's inside the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, in 2004.
Tony Dejak/AP

One of the most prestigious names in health care is taking a stand on food.

This week, Cleveland Clinic announced it would sever ties with McDonald's. As of Sept. 18, the McDonald's branch located in the Cleveland Clinic cafeteria will turn off its fryers and close its doors for good. Its lease will not be renewed.

The move is part of a wider effort by Cleveland Clinic leaders to promote a culture of wellness. Employees are offered free gym access and Weight Watchers memberships. And nudging out McDonald's is one of many steps the medical center has taken in the cafeteria to offer more healthful fare.

"Cleveland Clinic wants to help patients and visitors and our employees turn to healthier lifestyles and healthier choices," clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil tells The Salt.

And, burgers and french fries, well, they don't make the cut.

The move is not a huge surprise. As we've reported, Cleveland Clinic tried to terminate its lease contract with McDonald's several years back, but failed.

In the meantime, other facilities have had better success — what advocates for more healthful fare say is part of a trend.

"Cleveland Clinic is the seventh hospital since 2009" to cut ties with McDonald's, says Sriram Madhusoodanan of the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International.

He points to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo.

Now, McDonald's does offer more fresh food than it used to — everything from Cuties California Clementines in Happy Meals to its recent experiments with kale salads. And the company is scrambling to remake itself into, in the words of its CEO, a "progressive burger company."

But Madhusoodanan says many of its customers still go for the traditional menu.

"McDonald's most profitable items remain burgers, fries and soda," Madhusoodanan says. And that's a lot of sugar, salt and fat.

Some of those loyal customers are unhappy with the decision to shutter the Golden Arches at Cleveland Clinic — or elsewhere.

In Cleveland, some commenters on a local news site have complained that the loss of Mickey D's at the clinic amounts to the loss of the most affordable option. And another commenter wrote: "No one should be able to dictate lifestyle choices."

Cleveland Clinic's Sheil tells us that the medical center is aware of the need for good value. And, she says, as it considers replacements for McDonald's, the idea is to find a vendor that offers more healthful food and affordable prices.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Cleveland Clinic, one of the most prestigious names in health care, is taking a stand on food. It announced this week that McDonald's is leaving its food court. The golden arches will be taken down next month, as NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Cleveland Clinic is a huge operation - 6 million patient and family visits a year. And it also has about 45,000 employees, everyone from nurses and doctors to janitors and accountants, to the workers who push gurneys down the hospital hallways. And as part of an emphasis on wellness, every one of these employees is being nudged to live a little healthier. Cleveland Clinic offers employees free gym memberships, free access to Weight Watchers and increasingly more healthy options in its cafeteria. So when it came to renewing McDonald's lease, Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Eileen Sheil says the decision was it had to go.

EILEEN SHEIL: That wasn't what we wanted here.

AUBREY: Sheil says her organization wants to model the health care of the future by focusing on the prevention of diseases, including obesity.

SHEIL: Cleaving Clinic wants to help patients and visitors and our employees really turn to healthier lifestyles and healthier choices.

AUBREY: Cleveland Clinic isn't the only hospital to nudge fast food operators out. Sriram Madhusoodanan of the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International sees the decision as part of a broader trend.

SRIRAM MADHUSOODANAN: It's the seventh hospital since 2009 to sever ties with McDonald's.

AUBREY: Madhusoodanan points to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City. Now, it's not that McDonald's doesn't offer more fresh food than it used to - everything from fruit in Happy Meals to kale salads. But Madhusoodanan says its customers still go for the traditional menu.

MADHUSOODANAN: McDonald's most profitable items remain burgers, fries and soda.

AUBREY: So lots of sugar, fat and salt. The move to push McDonald's out certainly doesn't sit well with everyone. In Cleveland, commenters to a local news site have complained that shuttering McDonald's takes away one of the most affordable options in the Cleveland Clinic cafeteria. It's a sentiment that is shared by McDonald's customers all over the country, people like Antonio Luna (ph) who was eating at a McDonald's in suburban Maryland.

ANTONIO LUNA: I try my best not to spend a lot of money, so I come here for the dollar menus.

AUBREY: Cleveland Clinic says it's aware of the high priority on value. So as it looks to replace McDonald's, the idea is to find a vendor who can serve up healthier food at good prices. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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