In Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. executives say they are baffled by Columbia University's name infringement suit, especially since the company has used the "Columbia" moniker for nine years.
"We will vigorously defend the right to use the Columbia name and don't have plans to change any of that," said Columbia/HCA spokesman Jeff Prescott.
The company won a preliminary round in court when a federal judge denied the New York university's request for an immediate order to halt the hospital chain's use of the name.
"We're very pleased that the judge didn't grant the temporary restraining order," Prescott said. "We're trying to figure out why the university is suing because we don't operate a medical school.
"We're also trying to figure out what's their hurry," he added.
In a lawsuit filed Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Ivy League institution contends that Columbia/HCA's new national advertising campaign is bound to confuse people. In the campaign launched last month, the Nashville, Tenn.-based for-profit chain uses the shorthand "Columbia" to promote its medical services. The university says the use of the name will infringe on its long and distinguished identity.
Columbia University is not the only institution prepared to protect its venerable moniker. Susan M. Hansen, president and chief executive officer of Washington's Columbia Hospital for Women Medical Center, confirmed that her institution also may take legal action against Columbia/HCA to protect its name. The 128-year-old women's hospital is just blocks from George Washington University Hospital, which is said to be discussing a partnership with Columbia/HCA.
A spokesman for George Washington University Hospital said officials have been negotiating with several parties for a partnership with the hospital and a sale of its health plan. He would neither confirm nor deny that Columbia/HCA is among the negotiators.
Hansen said the national chain's branding campaign has begun to create some confusion, and a potential partnership between George Washington and Columbia/HCA would add to the confusion. The hospital has logged more than 500 calls from people who mistakenly assume some connection between Columbia/HCA and Columbia Hospital for Women.
"We feel there's value in the name Columbia Hospital for Women because of Columbia Continued from p. 3
its historic presence in the District (of Columbia)," Hansen said. "If we have to, we'll have to do what we can to block Columbia's ability to use that name in our market area."
Nine months ago the hospital wouldn't have taken action, but that was before the national chain started using the "Columbia" shorthand in its advertising campaign and before people started talking about a possible agreement between Columbia/HCA and George Washington, Hansen said.
"If we take action, it will be soon," she added.
Columbia University's lawsuit seeks to bar the nation's largest investor-owned chain from using "Columbia" as a trademark for its hospital, ambulatory, home health, physician and related healthcare services. It also seeks an unspecified sum "for all gains, profits and advantages" that Columbia/HCA generates from its use of the name.
Columbia University operates the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and is the academic arm of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. "We've had the name for 200 years associated with medicine," said William Polf, deputy vice president for external relations for Columbia University's health sciences division.
Polf said administrators are concerned that patients will be confused by Columbia/HCA's national branding campaign. Furthermore, the dean's office has received a number of calls from medical faculty angered by the alleged name conflict.
The university contends that the for-profit chain has created a direct conflict by renaming Presbyterian Hospital in Oklahoma City and University Hospital in Tamarac, Fla. Those institutions are called Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Hospital.
Columbia/HCA executives said they won't change any of their facilities' names in response to the suit. The company began the nationwide campaign touting its "brand" name after renaming all its facilities. In most cases, it tacked Columbia in front of their existing titles (Aug. 19, p. 26).
In U.S. medicine, no single institution has a corner on the name Columbia. The American Hospital Association Guide to the Health Care Field lists six hospitals whose names start with Columbia that aren't affiliated with Columbia/HCA. One of the six is Columbia (Mo.) Regional Hospital, which is owned by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. Tenet is the nation's second-largest for-profit hospital company after Columbia/HCA.
Not everyone is fretting about losing local identity.
"I'm not aware of any patients being confused," said Jane Ehrlich, president and CEO of Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, N.Y. State law currently bars publicly traded hospital chains from doing business in New York. But if the law were to change and Columbia/HCA entered the market, it might become an issue, she said.
Kristine Ehrmann, marketing director for Columbia Hospital in Milwaukee, said there is no need for her facility to pursue legal action because Columbia/HCA "is not competing with us."