TARPON SPRINGS — New owners at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital are making some changes. But family members of the hospital's namesake want to make sure that those changes don't include the hospital's name.
Carol E. Martin, daughter of the late Helen Ellis, the longtime volunteer for whom the hospital is named, said that after reviewing historical documents, the family "cannot in good conscience agree to any name change."
"We strongly believe that the name Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital represents Helen Ellis's love and devotion to the hospital, the Tarpon Springs community and her dedication to volunteer services," Martin wrote in a letter to the hospital's new chief executive officer.
Last September, Adventist Health System, an affiliate of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, took ownership of the struggling 84-year-old hospital, which saw a $9.5 million revenue loss in 2010.
Adventist merged with University Community Hospital Inc., the previous operator of the hospital, which was built in 1927 on city-owned land. Tarpon Springs leases the land to the hospital.
In January, Bruce Bergherm took over as the hospital's chief executive officer. Upon his arrival, he held meetings with the hospital's staff and community leaders. Among the topics was a possible name change.
"I'm not stupid; they have to have their name on the hospital," Martin said. "But they have to leave my mother's name as well."
Bergherm said no name change will occur without "soliciting the support" of the Ellis family and the Tarpon community.
"The Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital name is one that is meaningful and special to us here at the hospital and in the community and we have no intention of doing anything that would not honor that namesake," Bergherm wrote in an e-mail.
"We are exploring options relevant to our brand as a nationwide system that could help the hospital grow and flourish and have found that there is an interest by leadership, medical staff, community members and employees to further research these options."
But Martin points to a Feb. 4, 1992, agreement between her father and the city. According to the agreement, the name of the hospital will remain "in perpetuity, Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital."
But the city's attorney at the time, Alan Zimmet, questioned the enforceability of the agreement.
"In general the law does not recognize contracts 'in perpetuity.' " Zimmet wrote in a Jan. 28, 1992, memo.
Jim Yacavone, the current city attorney, declined to comment on the issue because he has not researched it.
"Helen Ellis hasn't come to us and said they want to change the name," Yacavone said. "So, until someone comes forward to me with a specific request, I will not research the issue. It's a hypothetical question right now."
A.L. and Helen Ellis moved to Tarpon Springs in 1946. A.L. Ellis was a banker and once was named one of Forbes magazine's 400 richest men in America.
In 1949, Helen Ellis needed medical care and was taken to what was then called Tarpon Springs General Hospital. Pleased with the care she received, Helen Ellis became involved with the hospital and volunteered thousands of hours. In 1961, she helped establish the Volunteer Auxiliary. She worked at the front desk and volunteered at the hospital until she wasn't physically able. The Ellises contributed millions to the hospital.
The hospital was named in honor of Helen Ellis in February 1989. She died at the hospital that same month. She was 81.
"My mother worked there many, many, many years," Martin said. "She loved that hospital."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com and (727) 445-4174.