Several Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. hospitals are dropping the tarnished Columbia name from their titles.
While the move would appear to distance the facilities from their troubled parent company, some of the hospitals said they had other reasons for shedding the Columbia moniker.
So far, five of the company's hospitals in South Carolina and three in Florida have either dropped Columbia from their name or have scuttled a decision to add it.
When Columbia's chairman and chief executive officer, Thomas Frist Jr., M.D., took over the troubled company July 25, he said the chain's facilities could drop the Columbia name if they felt it was necessary.
Frist's former company, Hospital Corporation of America, didn't require facilities to carry the company title, although many of them did preface their names with "HCA."
Allowing hospitals to stay with their community roots is part of Columbia's new marketing strategy to give local hospitals a little autonomy from the nation's largest hospital chain.
Spokesman Jeff Prescott said most hospitals dumping the Columbia moniker are in areas where people identify more with the other portion of the hospital's name. Columbia has not tallied how many of its 342 hospitals have dropped the name, he said.
In South Carolina, the five hospitals made the joint decision to get rid of the name. A spokeswoman for Columbia Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach said the main reason was to avoid confusion between the company and the name of the state's capital.
"We're a resort area, and when people heard Columbia Grand Strand, they would immediately be confused," she said.
It will cost about $1,000 to pull the name off two sides of the hospital and to put aluminum covers over the Columbia name on three 40-foot signs on a local highway bypass, she said.
The spokeswoman acknowledged that dropping the Columbia name does distance South Carolina hospitals from their parent company, but Columbia does not have a heavy presence in the state anyway.
Many people didn't realize that Grand Strand was a Columbia facility, she said. Even though it became a Columbia facility in 1994, it only started using the name last year, she said.
Two Florida hospitals have dropped the Columbia name from their facilities, and a third has decided to stop using Columbia in its advertising. Columbia Gulf Coast Medical Center, Panama City, Fla., will keep the company name on its sign outside the hospital but will de-emphasize its ties in advertising.
In other Columbia news last week:
Columbia denied rumors that Frist intends to take the company private. "There are no plans to do a leveraged buyout," Prescott said. Frist took HCA private in 1989 before merging with Columbia in 1994.
A Tennessee man filed what his lawyers claim is the first class-action lawsuit on behalf of patients against Columbia since the government's fraud investigation of the company was disclosed. The suit, filed in Washington County (Tenn.) Circuit Court, seeks redress for patients in 38 states. It alleges the plaintiff and countless others were wronged by excessive or fraudulent billing practices at Columbia.
Columbia Senior Vice President Victor Campbell said the sale of one of Value Health's three business units is moving forward, with completion expected within a year. Columbia has narrowed the number of prospective buyers for Value Behavioral Health, Campbell said. He said ValueRx and Value Health Sciences are still in the preliminary stages of the sale process. Columbia acquired Avon, Conn.-based Value Health in August for more than $1.1 billion.
Fitch Investors Service, a New York-based credit-rating agency, has placed Columbia's A-rated senior debt and F-1-rated commercial-paper programs on FitchAlert with negative implications. The action signals a possible downgrade, potentially affecting $4.2 billion of senior debt and $5 billion of commercial paper. Fitch said the federal government's investigation has negatively affected Columbia's operating performance.