Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A fine tradition disappearing all over the land. . .

As someone who traveled through LaCrosse many times, it was a welcome landmark to see the hospital structure called Gundersen Lutheran standing just off the interstate.  It was also a reminder to someone whose address is Tennessee that there is still a Lutheran heartland in which the name recognition of Lutherans is high.  Perhaps it was all a myth?  If people in LaCrosse and the surrounding area don't know what a Lutheran is, I am afraid we are in deep trouble in Tennessee!

From the LaCrosse Tribune:

So long, Lutheran. Gundersen Lutheran Health System will drop the word officially Wednesday.
The change is part of the health system’s evolution, with affiliates and subsidiaries beyond its traditional 19-county service area in the tri-states, said Pamela Maas, Gundersen Lutheran’s chief business development and marketing officer.

The name change was announced in December.

The rebranding aims to make Gundersen’s properties and services more clear, with titles simplified to Gundersen Galesville Clinic, Gundersen Health Plan, Gundersen Medical Foundation, Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance and others throughout its affiliates.

Research showed that “Lutheran” in the title confused some people who thought it referred to a religious organization and didn’t realize it was a health care organization, she said.

The Gundersen Lutheran name traces to 1995, when Gundersen Clinic and Lutheran Hospital joined.
“Lutheran” won’t disappear from all of the system’s buildings, Maas said.

“The Lutheran name has long been part of the organization’s history, and Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center will continue to be the name of Gundersen’s hospital in La Crosse,” she said. “People will see the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center name associated with inpatient and outpatient hospital services provided on our La Crosse and Onalaska campuses.”

Gundersen is phasing in the new name, starting on its website and in education materials and advertising this month. Signs at its various facilities will be installed starting in May and continue through the year.

Note the following:  Research showed that “Lutheran” in the title confused some people who thought it referred to a religious organization and didn’t realize it was a health care organization, she said.

There was a time when the names of Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc... adorned hospitals all over our land.  They did not serve only people of that church body but were widely recognized as exemplar institutions of caring and compassion as well as the  finest medicine.  I think back on Fort Wayne and the three big hospitals there:  Lutheran, St. Joe Catholic, and Parkview Methodist...  Lutheran was a huge and imposing complex of structures, a massive 800+ bed hospital whose name was synonymous with the best in pastoral and medical care -- two aspects of the healing arts long considered intimately related.  In a Lutheran city like Fort Wayne, the name Lutheran rang out familiarity and trust.  The same could be said of the affiliations of Parkview and St. Joe.  But no more.  St. Joe is owned by Lutheran and Lutheran is no longer Lutheran (they did keep the name for precisely the opposite reason Gundersen is dropping it).  They are owned now by a corporate conglomerate of hospitals based down the road from me in Nashville.  I have nothing in particular against corporations.  I am, however, distinctly sad every time a hospital with long standing church connections ditches its ties to become Primera or Avera or anyone of a hundred other made up names to replace the old churchly identity.  Why is Gundersen more identifiable than Lutheran for a hospital and its 19 affiliated health care agencies?

That is the point.  Little by little we are witnessing the demise of the once mostly community based and church affiliation hospitals and clinics that brought quality medical care to a nation of people.  What is more shocking than not in the Gundersen memo is that the name Lutheran was seen to be problematic for a health care organization.  It is one thing for it to be irrelevant but quite another to be an impediment to an institution's reputation as a health care provider.

Perhaps I am ancient, long in the tooth as they once said about old horses.  I regret the loss of these not only for the institutions themselves (many of which no longer offer any real pastoral care to patients -- like the hospital in my city) but even more so for the church bodies, congregational associations, and independent religious organizations which once gave them birth, sustained their life, directed their purpose, and succeeded in their mission of patient care -- body and spirit.  I find the churches today struggling against government regulation and the complex nature of the health care and social service structures in America.  We were once partners in some sense.  Now it seems we are enemies.  The loss is not only for the people served but for the churches and congregations who once saw their mission fulfilled in part by these hospitals and institutions of caring.  It is a sad day all the way around.  Another one has bit the dust but Gundersen was not the first and it will not be the last...


Anonymous said...

"Research showed that “Lutheran” in the title confused some people who thought it referred to a religious organization and didn’t realize it was a health care organization, she said."

Joke. There is nothing "Christian" remaining about any of the hospitals in the USA. Corporate conglomerates have realized that they no longer need to hide behind an outward Christian identity to enjoy the benefits of non-profit status.



Anonymous said...

This is indeed sad. I guess it's not only Thrivent removing their "Lutheran" name.
A family member of mine works in a "health care system" and it was formerly a Catholic hospital started by a nun. The last couple of years it has been dreadful to see how it is ramping up to be just another marketing-based, numbers driven entity, with little concern for the patient. And, "patients" are now being called "customers." The latest wacky scheme? If someone is unhappy with the hospital service in some way (ER taking too long etc.) the employees can give them a $5 gift card to the local ice cream shop.

Hopefully the hospital system you're mentioning won't leave behind their compassionate roots.