GASTONIA — Gaston Memorial Hospital became CaroMont Regional Medical Center on Thursday and also rolled out a new community health movement with a slogan that’s already stirring controversy: “Cheat Death.”
At an unveiling ceremony, hospital president and CEO Randy Kelley said the tagline may be edgy, but that this approach is needed in a county with a health ranking of 81st among North Carolina’s 100 counties.
“To put it bluntly, we have a health care crisis in Gaston County,” Kelley said. “And to solve it we’re going to have to transition to an entirely new structure of delivering health care.”
While the goal of making Gaston the healthiest county in North Carolina is “audacious,” Kelley said, “we need an equally audacious and provocative rallying cry.”
At Thursday’s event, a hospital team wore Cheat Death T-shirts and toasted each other with Cheat Death smoothies.
Kelley said the hospital will be working on a medically approved Cheat Death Kits for schools, businesses and churches. The kits will have step-by-step approaches that will help people increase their odds of living longer.
Also in the works is a plan with gyms and restaurants that will offer such things as Cheat Death workouts and Cheat Death menu specials.
Health care tips will appear in social media.
“Cheat Death. When you get beyond the initial shock – isn’t that exactly what you want your health care provider to help you do?” Kelley asked. “It’s exactly what we help our patients do every day of the year.”
The Chapel Hill-based marketing firm Immortology was hired to work on the hospital renaming and new slogan.
Reviews of the Cheat Death slogan are mixed so far in the community.
Gaston County commissioner Jason Williams, who also serves on the CaroMont Health Board of Trustees, didn’t attend Thursday’s event at the hospital. But he said within the last two days he’d heard from hospital employees, physicians and citizens expressing disappointment over the Cheat Death tagline.
“They think it has a negative connotation,” Williams said. “Some doctors believe it cheapens their field. I had a minister who thought it was even blasphemous.”
While there was consensus on the board of trustees about the hospital name change and the new tagline “there was never a formal vote,” Williams said.
He raised the possibility of ditching the Cheat Death idea.
“Gaston County is very conservative politically, socially, and religiously,” Williams said. “I don’t think this is going to be too well-received by the community. And I don’t think it’s ever too late to step back and revisit this.”
Williams had no problem with the hospital name change as long as the old name was recognized in some way, as hospital officials said it would.
“I think it’s important to embrace history and our heritage,” he said. “We owe it to our citizens and veterans … we can’t leave history behind and turn the page.”
County commissioner Tom Keigher, who wasn’t invited to Thursday’s unveiling, said he’s getting phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from folks dissatisfied with the name change and Cheat Death slogan.
“The name Gaston Memorial Hospital is too old-fashioned, guess we better start thinking of new names for the Lincoln Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, and so on,” he said in an email urging people to let the hospital administration know if they agree.
He called Cheat Death “the absolute worst slogan a hospital could take … sounds like an 80s heavy metal band.”
Around the region, hospitals are rebranding. In February, Novant Health announced it was changing the names of its hospitals so that every name will start with “Novant.” It will be effective April 17.
Established in 1946, the private nonprofit Gaston Memorial Hospital honored World War II veterans. The county owns the land and leases the buildings and property to CaroMont for $1 per year. County commissioners appoint 13 of the 14 members of the hospital trustee board.
The 435-bed hospital anchors CaroMont Health, a health care system with seven affiliate companies including a network of 33 primary and specialty physician offices. With 4,000 employees, CaroMont is Gaston’s largest employer. The CaroMont name has been around since 2000.
Kelley said that the old name Gaston Memorial Hospital “no longer reflects who we are – and quite frankly – who we have been the past 10 or more years.”
People in and outside the community “have a deep-seated and extremely negative opinion of the name,” Kelley said. “So negative, in fact, it is overshadowing not only CaroMont Health, but also all the good we’re doing here.
“The other thing it’s doing is creating confusion. The majority of people don’t know that Gaston Memorial Hospital and CaroMont Health are one in the same. That won’t do for our flagship facility.”
‘Focusing on future’
Despite the name change, veterans will continue to be honored, he said. There’s already a large memorial to veterans in the courtyard off the main lobby and Kelley said a plaque with the Gaston Memorial name will also go up.
“We’re mindful of history,” he said. “And focused on the future.”
The hospital announced a new purpose statement: “To give every man, woman and child in Gaston County every opportunity to Cheat Death.”
Kelley said all CaroMont employees would be asked to take and sign the oath.
Before making the changes, Kelley said CaroMont conducted in-depth research with patients and staff. Also, beginning a January retreat, he said hospital trustees have been given a detailed look at the plans.
“Commissioners were less involved,” he said. “This is not something that requires county commissioners’ oversight and approval.”
In launching the wellness movement, CaroMont will lead some “very bold community outreach programs,” Kelley said, adding that while it won’t happen overnight “this is a step in the right direction.”