I don't want to be too hard on Banner Health considering the outfit placed its headquarters in a Midtown skyscraper. But a year after it changed the nearly century-old name of Good Samaritan Hospital to Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix, I am still thinking, huh?
There's no university there on east McDowell. Indeed, it was Banner and CEO Peter Fine that torpedoed plans to relocate the county hospital to a new building on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, with the medical and nursing schools, where the "bench-to-bedside" vision of T-Gen's Jeff Trent could have been realized. This action in the 2000s showed Banner at its very worst.
The "university" part comes from Banner's $1 billion takeover of the University of Arizona's medical center and a satellite clinic in Tucson. More about that in a moment.
To be sure, names change. The old Scottsdale Baptist Hospital changed its affiliation and became Scottsdale Memorial Hospital in the 1970s. It was where I trained to be a paramedic. When I returned in 2000, it was something called Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn, sounding more like a doctor's office than a hospital, much less a Level 1 trauma center. Now it's HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center (how much did some consultant get paid to slam the two words together?).
St. Joe's has somehow kept its original, historic name even if it was excommunicated by the bishop, so to speak. Smaller St. Luke's is still there, too, under control of the unfortunately named IASIS Healthcare (when acronyms go bad!). John C. Lincoln Hospital also has the HonorHealth mashup in front of its name but at least kept its identity.
In Seattle, Virginia Mason Medical Center, one of the nation's best, still has its 1920 name. Presbyterian and St. Luke's in Denver were acquired by the giant HealthONE (kill the space; that will be $500,000 in consulting fees) network in the 1990s. But the outfit was obliged to keep both names. It would be unthinkable to change the names of Mass General and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Down the Northeast Corridor, Gotham's Mount Sinai, founded in 1852, has not even been mashed up into MountSinai. Even Charlotte, which has grown like kudzu, still has Carolinas Medical Center and Presbyterian Medical Center, the latter keeping its name even after being acquired by Novant. Houston's Methodist Hospital has been around since 1919.
Good Sam was no less a consequential and beloved Phoenix institution. And it didn't begin with that name. Lulu Clifton, a Methodist deaconess (and tuberculosis sufferer) and other Methodists founded its predecessor, Deaconess Hospital, in 1911 (the original building, at Third Avenue and Van Buren, stood until 1969). A nursing program was established. In 1923, the hospital was moved out of downtown to 10th Street and McDowell, its present location. It was rechristened Good Samaritan Hospital in late 1928.
The old Good Samaritan campus, which survived into the late 1970s, was one of the most beautiful spots in Phoenix. It was far more lovely than stark St. Joe's, and fit seamlessly into McDowell's "Miracle Mile." The Phoenix Fire Department's first paramedics trained at Good Sam. As Samaritan Health System, Good Sam established Maryvale Samaritan Hospital in 1961 and, in Mesa, Desert Samaritan Hospital in the mid-1970s.
Many native Phoenicians were born at there, in numbers only equaled by "Mr." Joe's. It was considered one of the finest hospitals in the Southwest. I also wonder whether the grandees at Banner considered how many were saved or drew their last breath there and how for many thousands this name, Good Samaritan, was more than a "branding" plaything? Even their predecessors, who leveled the stately buildings and shade trees in favor of the brutal "aliens have landed!" tower and other incoherent architectural monotony, kept the hospital's name.
I suppose that in Phoenix, where even the most enchanting city name in America is often supplanted by "the Valley," anything is fair game. Phoenix has no history! And Good Sam was down in the scary inner city! Hey, it's sunny! Shut up, Talton, you hate Arizona!
To be fair, "branding" and "rebranding" are big business and corporate leaders are easily taken in. Or they want to distract from serious issues by changing the signage and letterhead. So much music from our language of commerce has been lost: e.g., the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is now BNSF. But considering how unpopular Banner is with many in "the Valley," it makes one wonder — or not — why its suits would so casually throw away an important piece of Phoenix's soul.
Maybe the name change was a quiet part of the deal that allowed Banner to acquire the UA operations. Banner is so big and "profitable" for a non-profit that it could absorb the losses of the struggling UA academic hospitals. The deal approved by the Regents requires Banner to invest $500 million in Tucson; overall, it is committing almost $1 billion in the Old Pueblo and Phoenix. More likely, the name choice is positioning Banner to stifle academic medical center competition before the ASU/Mayo combination really takes off.
And sure, the money-driven medicine model of American healthcare is a disaster. Everything must be placed in this context.
But I'll keep calling the place on McDowell Good Sam.