Washington's ever-anonymous Great Mentioner, who surfaces only when trial balloons need launching, just floated another not-quite-yet-official word:
President Barack Obama's advisers reportedly have approached the chief of the Cleveland Clinic -- where all patients get same-day appointments with doctors -- about running the Department of Veterans Affairs, where hospital patients have languished and died awaiting appointments.
The Wall Street Journal, which was first with the in-depth whisper, reported that Obama's advisers have discussed the job of secretary of veterans affairs with Dr. Delos "Toby" Cosgrove, a heart surgeon who earned a Bronze Star in the Vietnam War, who has been president and chief executive officer of Cleveland Clinic since 2004. Things are at the point in the traditional Cabinet kabuki where White House sources are saying there is no final decision yet and Cosgrove sources report he "is seriously considering pursuing the position."
But a check of Cosgrove's record reveals the ultimate in-depth reason why Obama should offer the job to Cosgrove -- and why Cosgrove should just say yes:
Because Toby Cosgrove gets it.
It is not just that Cosgrove has all of the business management skills the VA's just-resigned secretary, the well-intentioned, supremely motivated Gen. Eric Shinseki, just didn't possess. Cosgrove also has demonstrated a talent for doing the one thing the VA most needs done.
Cosgrove knows how to change a failed and flawed mindset and culture. That is precisely what has long been the VA's bottom-line problem, as I concluded in 2008, in a book, "Vets Under Siege," that spotlighted decades of cases where the VA delayed or denied treatment and benefits for veterans who had earned both fighting our battles.
And the VA's core problem of a flawed mindset and culture is precisely what Shinseki never grasped (at least not publicly) until his very last day in office. Then, in a soliloquy that approached a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, the defeated four-star Army general finally acknowledged the VA had been corroded by a corrupted culture that must be changed.
Recognizing and changing a flawed institutional mindset and culture is what Cosgrove seems to get from the get-go.
Cosgrove outlined his philosophy in a 2013 posting on the LinkedIn.com website: "People come to us at the most vulnerable times of their lives. They look to us for compassion. They trust us with their most precious assets -- their health and the health of their parents, spouses and children. How could we ever be less than empathetic to anyone who comes through our doors?"
"There is a danger of forgetting that each patient is an individual, with a unique story and particular fears. ...We need to listen to that patient who is sitting across from us in the examination room and connect with her or him as if we were the only two people in the world."
But eloquence is easy. The impressive thing about Cosgrove is that he walked the walk even before he talked the talk.
On his first day as president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic, Cosgrove distributed among his staff 40,000 buttons proclaiming "Patients First." He then implemented a "same-day" policy at Cleveland Clinic facilities that is quite the opposite of the sad and shameful record established by the VA's hospitals, where patients have been known to wait for months just to see a doctor, and have even died while waiting for treatment.
Anyone who calls a Cleveland Clinic facility, any day before 4 p.m., is greeted with: "Thank you for calling Cleveland Clinic. Would you like to be seen today?" And anyone who calls after 4 p.m. is asked: "Would you like to be seen tomorrow?"
That is the sort of thinking that our next VA secretary must put into practice -- now, if not sooner. It is hard to imagine Cosgrove tolerating a department that leaves veterans thinking the "VA" stands for Veterans' Adversaries. He would work to make sure he was running a Department of Veterans Advocacy.
When it comes to changing a "me-first" bureaucracy's mindset and culture, Toby Cosgrove not only gets it, but he's done it. Our veterans need him to do it again.
Contact Martin Schram at firstname.lastname@example.org.