Hospital name change mocked and mourned as system eyes major expansion

Atrium’s Carolinas Medical Center in Dilworth is shown here on Dec. 12, 2017.
Atrium’s Carolinas Medical Center in Dilworth is shown here on Dec. 12, 2017.

In Charlotte, a city often seen as embracing the new at the expense of the old, another piece of the past is vanishing with the loss of the Carolinas HealthCare System name.

Last week, the Charlotte-based hospital network, the largest in the state, announced it is changing its name to Atrium Health. The public nonprofit said the move reflects its growth from a single community hospital in Charlotte to a regional health care behemoth.

While it could take up to two years to rename hospitals, the decision erases yet another familiar brand from the region’s landscape. The Carolinas HealthCare System name was introduced in 1996, as executives at that time noted the need for a brand reflecting the regional scope of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority’s operations. Before that, the authority’s name dated to the 1940s.

For Charlotte, it adds to the list of household brands that have disappeared over the years. Many of those lost have been in the banking sector (think Wachovia, First Union and North Carolina National Bank).

Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett said Atrium’s news underscores the rapid change sweeping the region – a trend that helps explain the rise of Facebook groups like I’m A Native Charlottean, where locals wax nostalgic about restaurants and other beloved places now gone.

“There’s considerable angst among long-time Charlotteans, not just native Charlotteans ... about the pace of change,” Hanchett said. “It’s hard on the soul. We need our moorings in the people and places and institutions around us. I think it tugs at the heart of many of us.”

On the other hand, Hanchett said, Charlotte is a city long known for embracing change: “This is a region that does reinvent itself, and so that’s seriously part of Charlotte’s identity.”

Still, it hasn’t stopped some from criticizing the Atrium name as sounding too corporate and for dropping its reference to the Carolinas. Chris Larson, a WBTV meteorologist, tweeted, “Atrium Health... really? Carolinas HealthCare System’s new name is about as appealing as a fake Ficus.” And Gerry Cohen called it on Twitter “Sad loss of a sense of place. Renamed to a buzz word.”

Others question why Atrium made the move while still negotiating with UNC Health Care of Chapel Hill to form a new public, nonprofit corporation.

“Shame on Carolinas HealthCare System, now Atrium Health, for needlessly spending what will easily be millions of dollars changing signs, stationery, pens, and white coats – for a name change amidst negotiations that may very well create another name change,” Brent Davids of Charlotte wrote to the Observer.

Atrium has said it wanted its new brand to convey strength and warmth, as well as be instantly recognizable and easy to remember. The system has also noted that it’s keeping its teal “Tree of Life” icon, which has been updated.

But others questioned the selection of a name shared by other companies, including in healthcare. That list includes New Jersey-based Atrium Health & Senior Living and Missouri-based Atrium Health Services.

In addition, Charlotte is already home to The Atrium, an uptown event venue.

“It just didn’t seem like the best choice,” said Michael Thompson, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at UNC Charlotte. “There are so many health names that are in the ‘A’ area that it’s going to be easy to confuse them,” he said, listing health insurers Anthem and Aetna.

Keeping the Tree of Life icon, though, will likely help consumers realize Atrium is the former Carolinas HealthCare, Thompson said.

Carolinas HealthCare will benefit from shedding its old name, he said, as it seeks to get bigger by combining with UNC Health and Georgia-based hospital system Navicent under a separate deal announced last week.

“It was a geographically limiting name,” Thompson said.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts