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What’s in a name?

Up Front: April 2011

What’s in a name?

In Romeo and Juliet, his tale of young lovers caught between feuding families, Shakespeare poses that very question, then tries to answer it. “That which we call a rose,” his heroine argues, “by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, we all know how that turned out. As any marketer will tell you, name is a major part of the game, branding being how a business defines and describes itself to both customers and competitors. That thought occurred, not long after our March issue came out, when I received this e-mail.

As a woman, a nurse and president and CEO of an independent health system in North Carolina for the past six years, I found the cover story interesting. I suspect that Joann Anderson, a nurse and president and CEO of Southeastern Regional Medical Center (an independent health system) found it equally interesting.

In good humor and with warm regards,
Laura Easton, President/CEO
Caldwell Memorial Hospital Inc.


We had set out to do the story about the CEO of Gastonia-based CaroMont Health Inc. because she was unusual — a woman who had started out as a nurse and was now running an independent health-care system — but our reporting led us to believe she was unique. In his usual thorough manner, Ed Martin had checked with the state nurses and hospital associations, and Valinda Rutledge was the only one they were aware of. While the story was being edited, he went back and double-checked for health systems with women CEOs, even going down, name by name, the roll of the hospital association’s more than 130 members. There is no specific designation of what constitutes a health system, other than it’s made up of more than one entity. “And there are very few stand-alone facilities of any kind these days,” says Joann Anderson, the Southeastern Regional chief executive Easton mentioned in her e-mail.

Anchored by a 325-bed hospital in Lumberton, Southeastern Regional has business entities in four counties that employ more than 2,200 people. So why, I ask, does it choose to call itself a medical center rather than a health system? “We have that debate internally,” she says, adding that it’s something, like the decision to remain independent, that may change someday.

But there just might be some branding at work here, too. A medical center has a certain connotation with care, while health system sounds, well, corporate. When you’re facing giant competitors such as Carolinas HealthCare System, a Gaston Memorial Hospital might want — or need — to puff itself up into CaroMont Health. That’s not the case in Southeastern Regional’s market, one of the poorest parts of the state. But this health-care provider, whatever it might call itself, is a big business that drives the local economy. “You’re the jewel in our crown,” she recalls someone saying about its role. “And if something happens to you, we don’t have a crown.”

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