Name change likely for Durham Regional Hospital

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 06:27 PM

County Commissioners appear likely to give Durham Regional Hospital’s leaders permission to change the county owned facility’s name to Duke Regional Hospital.

The move is coming at the request of hospital board members who say they fear losing patients long-term as Durham residents increasingly identify Duke as the county’s leading health care provider.

Substituting Duke for Durham in the hospital’s name will enable it to piggyback on the Duke University Health System’s marketing, said Mike Pearl, chairman of the Durham Regional Hospital Corp. board of trustees.

On its own, “the marketing budget we have we simply can’t compete with other hospitals in the area” when it comes to generating public awareness of the facility, Pearl said.

Four of Durham’s five County Commissioners – Commissioner Ellen Reckhow excepted – favored speedy approval of the proposal after a briefing this week. The vote is scheduled for next Monday.

“If we want to continue to be in the market and see this hospital move forward, it’s critical this branding take place,” said Commissioner Michael Page, who serves with County Manager Mike Ruffin on the hospital board.

But Reckhow was skeptical of any long-term benefit from the name change as the hospital competes for patients with Duke University Hospital.

“People shorten, and I imagine EMS folks would say [to patients], ‘Where would you rather go, Duke or Regional,’” she said. “If you have a choice of Duke or Regional, people will still pick Duke.”

Reckhow added that she was reluctant because “it’s important for people to know that the hospital isn’t just an annex or a part of the Duke health system.”

But the 369-bed hospital does have Duke ties. While the county retains ownership, commissioners long ago leased the Roxboro Street complex to Duke for the university to operate.

Hospital trustees proposed the name change because a 2012 survey of Durham residents found that about 62 percent of them named Duke University Hospital when asked the first hospital that came to mind.

Durham Regional came in far behind as the first-to-mind for just 15 percent of those surveyed. It finished just ahead of UNC Hospitals, which is in Chapel Hill.

More important, the same dynamic plays out when patients being picked up by EMS or being referred or transferred from another health care facility are asked where in Durham they want to go, Durham Regional managers say.

That’s a problem, Ruffin said, because hospitals are losing some federal subsidies they’ve counted on for treating the indigent.

The prospective loss of aid is embedded in the federal health care insurance reform legislation passed at the behest of President Barack Obama.

Such enforced belt-tightening means “we’re in a different world now that is very highly competitive,” Ruffin said. “We’ve had to take look at everything we could do – it’s not just the name change – to keep us on a level playing field and keep us as competitive as we as can be.”

Hospital officials say they tested three names as potential alternatives to Durham Regional Hospital. Duke Regional “was the strongest by far,” said Katie Galbraith, chief of hospital operations.

The other options were Duke Community Hospital, rejected because “we felt would not elevate the hospital to the level we needed” to attract transfers from smaller facilities, and Duke-Durham Regional Hospital, which “we felt was confusing,” Galbraith said.