Is It Fair That McDonald's May Be Given The Boot?

An interesting dilemma surfaced recently involving Cleveland Clinic, the nation's premier heart-surgery hospital, and Mc-Donald's, which operates a unit in its lobby. The new head of the Clinic, Dr. Toby Cosgrove, has forcefully suggested to the fast-food purveyor that it pack up and go. As you can imagine, the fast food giant isn't "lovin' it."

Cosgrove is a renowned heart surgeon who has cleaned out miles of clogged arteries and believes the sale of Big Macs and French fries is an affront to everything the hospital stands for. His feelings are understandable, but here's the catch: McDonald's has 10 more years remaining on its 20-year lease. McDonald's has informed Cosgrove it won't go quietly. That, by the way, is exactly what Pizza Hut did—go quietly—when its Express unit was asked recently to remove itself from the hospital's lobby.

Bill Whitman, a spokesman for McDonald's USA, said the company takes pride in its food and everything on McDonald's menu can fit into a balanced diet. "The company is committed to helping customers lead balanced, active lifestyles," he said.

Cosgrove isn't buying the argument. He says neither McDonald's nor Pizza Hut is associated with hearthealthy food, and it's the Clinic's responsibility to set an example with the food it serves patients and employees. The Clinic will also be taking a hard look at its other food vendors, he says, including Au Bon Pain, Subway, Starbucks, its contract-run cafeteria, and vending machines.

The Cleveland Clinic does not stand alone on this issue. McDonald's has 36 restaurants in hospitals, and some of its landlords are rethinking their business relationships, including Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York. A spokesman there said it would likely replace its McDonald's unit with another restaurant "that provides a much broader array of healthy food choices" when its contract expires in two years.

This is an argument that can be fought on many levels, but let's look at it from a legal standpoint. McDonald's has already conducted business in the hospital for 10 years and has been a reputable tenant. Ten years later it still serves much of the same food it served when the agreement was made, and it has made strides in recent years to provide more healthful alternatives. Yet, the Cleveland Clinic now wants to give it the boot. It doesn't seem fair.

There's also the argument that the heart center, which has been ranked first in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for 10 straight years, has taken on the role of Big Brother. No one forces people to eat at Mc-Donald's, which is a business that lives or dies (so to speak) on customer demand. The Clinic's McDonald's franchise has thrived for 10 years.

But on the other hand, "How can the Cleveland Clinic, which prides itself on promoting good health, have the audacity to have a McDonald's in the main lobby?" says cardiology chairman Dr. Eric Topol. "If this was a strip mall or a food court in a public place, that would be a different matter," he said. "We're supposed to be the icons for promoting good health." Good point. What do you think? Drop me an e-mail.