The pharmaceutical industry's tight-knit alliance with America's medical community just got a little tighter.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, one of the world's leading drug companies, paid $5 million for the right to have its corporate name indelibly attached to the first freestanding children's hospital in New Jersey.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, which opened in mid-March, will offer 45 pediatric specialty services and 70 private rooms, all with sleeping arrangements for parents. By funding about 8% of the hospital's total cost of $62 million, the drug company takes public-sector sponsorship to an unprecedented level.
But there are no strings attached to the donation, according to hospital spokeswoman Laurie Miller. The drug company is the biggest private employer in the surrounding Middlesex and Mercer counties.
"There is absolutely no influence. They gave the money to be good corporate citizens," she said. "And, as corporate citizens, they have no say over how we run the hospital. We have a good relationship with them, but it is clearly spelled out."
Becky Taylor, a Bristol-Myers Squibb spokeswoman, called the sponsorship a "wonderful opportunity to partner with one of the leading hospitals in the region focusing on an issue-child care-that is near and dear to our hearts."
Asked about a drug company's public connection to a hospital-perhaps the first of its kind-Taylor said, "I think there's been a positive response because there are no strings attached, and there can't be any strings attached. This is a gift that's intended to support a worthwhile organization doing important work."
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital isn't the first organization to take advantage of America's naming rights craze, a staple at sports venues such as the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, FedEx Field in Washington and Coors Field in Denver.
In fact, the new 445-bed facility isn't even the first children's hospital to succumb to private-sector marketing and money. Two already have-Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I., and Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA in Los Angeles.
Richard Wade, the American Hospital Association's senior vice president of communications, said there's nothing new about cash donations prompting hospital officials to name a building, wing or specialty center after a generous benefactor. But the advent of corporate naming rights in healthcare-first giant toy makers, then a global drug giant-is a new trend that "undoubtedly will be something that confronts hospitals more and more."
"It's really an extension of what's historically been happening with hospitals," Wade said. "Look around. Every hospital in America probably has some part of it named for someone who made a donation. So you can imagine it wouldn't take long before big corporations would present themselves in the same way.
"Corporations are looking for ways to improve their reputations. One of the best ways to be good corporate citizens is to invest in the health of their community," he said. "But hospitals will have to be selective and look carefully at the corporate identity and integrity (of potential corporate sponsors)."
Miller said Bristol-Myers Squibb, a $21.3 billion-per-year operation with products ranging from Excedrin to Taxol, a leading chemotherapy drug, "stepped up to the plate" shortly after the hospital foundation announced plans in 1998 to offer the naming rights for $5 million. It was only later, this past January, that a larger donation arrived from a private source-$8 million from the estate of Elizabeth Waldron, a former patient at the university hospital.
Faced with a sponsorship dilemma, Robert Wood Johnson officials proclaimed that the hospital pavilion would be named for Waldron and the hospital itself would be named for the big drug company. Thus was created this designation: The Elizabeth R. Waldron Pavilion at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.