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Hospital name change consistent with industry trend

| April 23, 2013 3:34 PM

While doing a little research on St. John’s Lutheran Hospital, I decided to type “hospital and name change” into Google to see what would come up. I figured a few other hospitals might be considering name changes. 

I was surprised to find newspaper articles focusing on 11 hospitals across the U.S. that were in the process of changing their names. That was a heck of a lot more than I thought I’d find. And my search went back only two weeks.

In fact, this name-change trend has been going on for several years in the healthcare industry as facilities that had long been known as hospitals began choosing more holistic names that capture the full scope of services that they provide. Think “medical center” or “healthcare system. 

Some hospitals have decided to cut all ties to religious organizations that once played an important part in establishing those hospitals. Methodist Medical Center in Iowa is getting a new, non-religious name; St. Mary’s Hospital in Minnesota sounds far less Catholic now that it’s name has been changed to Mayo Clinic Hospital-Rochester.

The idea, as I understand it, is to make it clear that all people are welcome at those hospitals without fear of discrimination.

Likewise, St. John’s Lutheran Hospital is not carving any new territory by proposing a name change. Instead, it’s following an industry trend.

If the hospital is going to change its name, this is a good time to do it. The hospital is in the middle of a $35 million construction project that will result in a new 77,000-square-foot facility. The project is scheduled for an early completion in January. 

With all of that going on, the hospital’s board of directors has asked the community to help rename the hospital. Already, more than 130 people have submitted suggestions, according to Kate Stephens, the marketing specialist at St. John’s Lutheran Hospital.

Stephens said many of the suggestions were very good, while a few of them were “bizarre.” But, overall, the community’s involvement was helpful, she said.

I’m not surprised by the robust response. After listening to some of the debate about the name change during the past few weeks, it’s clear that the community is invested in the hospital’s future and welcomes the invitation to help choose a new name.

Some people seem to like the name just as it is, for sake of tradition. Others want the name to reflect the geography of the hospital’s service area. And a few are somewhat upset that anyone would consider cutting the final thread between the hospital and the local church that helped it get started.

The name St. John’s Lutheran Hospital was adopted more than 60 years ago in recognition of the support given by the congregation of St. John Lutheran Church. Back then, community members associated with the J. Neils Lumber Co. and St. John Lutheran Church led the charge to build a hospital in Libby. As the project got started, the church allowed the new hospital to use its nonprofit status to raise money and to qualify for government assistance.

With a historical connection that strong, it’s understandable that there would be some resistance to changing the hospital’s name. For old-timers at St. John Lutheran Church, changing the name might sting a little bit.

But this is a new era for the hospital. The organization has invested heavily in the community and wants a new identity that will be less restrictive than the current one. Hospital executives and members of the board want to look to the future, and they believe a new name will help them move that direction.

However, in a move that pays tribute to the past, the hospital is planning to keep the St. John’s name on the current hospital building. The building will mostly be used for storage after the new hospital is finished, but retaining the traditional name on at least one building would be a significant concession to those who offered their support six decades ago.

The hospital will continue to gather suggestions from the community for another month or so, and then the board of directors will vote on the new name. Stephens said the new name will become official in June or July.

If I had to guess, I’d say the new name of the hospital will avoid any connection to religion. And it will probably not include the word “hospital.”

So, with those parameters in mind, I’ll offer this suggestion: Kootenai Valley Medical Center.

It’s short, simple and to the point. It offers a geographic reference. It doesn’t include a religious connotation. And it reflects the full breadth of healthcare services offered at the facility.

Is it an ideal name? No. Will it appease those who don’t want to change the name? Of course not.

But a wise man once said: “Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past, what to enjoy of the present, and what to plan for in the future.”

 

(Matt Bunk is publisher of  The Western News. His column appears weekly.)