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Would Fletcher Allen by Another Name Remain the Same?

Local Matters


Published October 10, 2007 at 4:15 p.m.


BURLINGTON - What's in a name? For Fletcher Allen Health Care, some good and some bad.

The medical complex based in Burlington and Colchester could soon be rebranded, partly in order to highlight its link to the University of Vermont's College of Medicine. A change of name might also be seen as a move intended to speed the health center's recovery from the Renaissance Project scandal that smudged its reputation in the early part of this decade.

Fletcher Allen employees, affiliated physicians and residents of the region are being asked their opinion of the current label as part of a months-long "branding project" that seeks to gauge perceptions of the 128-year-old institution. The survey is being carried out by Denver-based Monigle Associates, which describes itself as a "brand consultancy and design firm." Maria McClellan, a Fletcher Allen spokeswoman, says Fletcher Allen paid Monigle $325,000 to complete the survey. She was unable to provide an estimate of what the actual rebranding might cost.

No date has been set for completion of the project, which was launched last December. It's also not clear when a choice will be made to retain, change or "enhance" the organization's name, Fletcher Allen spokesman Mike Noble says, explaining that decision-making power rests with the hospital's top executives and board of trustees.

More than 2000 people have taken part in the survey so far, Noble adds. He could not say how many of Fletcher Allen's 6300 employees accepted an emailed invitation from CEO Dr. Melinda Estes to answer a set of questions posted online.

Many workers regard the survey as a comparatively unimportant exercise, says Jennifer Henry, president of the Fletcher Allen nurses' union. "To many of our members, a name change is not at the top of the list of priorities we're concerned about at the hospital," Henry comments.

She does suggest, however, that Fletcher Allen should think carefully before committing to a full-scale rebranding. "For some of us, the legacy of those two women honored in the title is really important to preserve," Henry says.

Vermont's first hospital opened in 1879 with a $200,000 gift from Burlington philanthropist Mary Martha Fletcher, who had also endowed the city's library six years earlier. Mary Fletcher Hospital was renamed the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont in 1967.

Meanwhile, The Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph founded a Catholic hospital in Colchester in 1894. The nuns named the place for one of their own: Frances "Fanny" Allen, the eldest child of head Green Mountain Boy Ethan Allen.

The two institutions were formally combined in 1995 along with the University Health Center. The merger agreement stipulated that the new entity would carry both the Fletcher and Allen names.

But "as far as I know," Noble says, the organization is not under any current obligation to retain either name. "We do need to respect our history and preserve our identity," Noble acknowledges.

The branding project involves more than selecting a title or a logo, Estes says. At public meetings earlier this year, the CEO defined a brand as "a big organizing idea that resonates on multiple levels." One benefit of a strong brand is that "it builds awareness, loyalty and credibility," Estes added.

Fletcher Allen does not lag in public awareness, but it continues to grapple with loyalty and credibility issues in the aftermath of the convictions of four senior executives for conspiring to conceal the true cost of a $380 million expansion project.

Former CEO William Boettcher was sentenced to two years in federal prison and ordered to repay $700,000 in benefits for his role in the scandal. David Demers, former senior vice president for development, was fined $25,000 and given two years' probation. Thadeous Krupka, who resigned as chief operating officer, pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors that required him to forfeit $170,000 in benefits. And ex-Chief Financial Officer David Cox pleaded guilty to state charges and forfeited $25,000 under a federal stipulation.

Fletcher Allen itself was fined $1 million, while Renaissance Project architects Tsoi/Kobus & Associates of Cambridge, Mass., paid a $1.3 million settlement. Construction manager Macomber/Barton-Malow, also based in Massachusetts, paid $150,000. Vermeulens Cost Consultants, headquartered in Ontario, paid $50,000 as its share of the settlement.