TARPON SPRINGS — This city's hospital is going to get a new name.
This week, city commissioners approved the hospital's request to change its name from Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital to Florida Hospital North Pinellas.
But the Ellis name will not disappear entirely from the medical facility that was improved through the years with Ellis family money. When new signs go up on the exterior of the hospital on Alt. U.S. 19, "Helen Ellis Memorial" will appear beneath the larger new name.
Inside, the Ellis name will be featured on a wall in the lobby, and the hospital board room will be renamed the A.L. Ellis Board Room, for the late banker whose success in business funded the family's philanthropy. His wife, Helen, was a longtime volunteer at the hospital.
Changing the name of the hospital, which is built on city-owned property, could have been a sticky issue. Hospital officials thanked the Ellises' daughter, Carol Martin, for her willingness to consider the hospital's best interests and agree to the change. According to Martin, her family has donated or committed $5.5 million to the hospital over the years.
Hospital officials has been saying for months that the facility needs a fresh start and a new name with a regional focus to improve its viability and reputation.
"The hospital's ready for a new chapter," Bruce Bergherm, the hospital's chief executive officer, told commissioners at their meeting Tuesday night.
The Adventist Health System, an affiliate of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, began operating the 168-bed facility in 2010 after merging with the previous operator of the hospital, University Community Hospital in Tampa. Adventist has spent more than $40 million to upgrade the facility.
Most of the Adventist hospitals in the state have Florida Hospital and a location in their names. Officials had said that giving Helen Ellis a name similar to others in the network would help with branding and marketing.
Adventist Health System hired a consultant to conduct focus groups on the renaming issue. The consultant met with groups of doctors, hospital staff, residents and the hospital foundation. All groups agreed the name needed to be changed, Bergherm said.
One of the speakers at Tuesday's meeting was blunt about the need for a new name and a new image.
"People in Palm Harbor . . . believe Tarpon Springs sits on the lower end of the economic-social status," said Michael Kouskoutis, who has been a hospital board member for years. "We have to become regional . . . We need to broaden that market."
Commissioner Chris Alahouzos said studies have shown a negative perception of the hospital. He said the hospital needs to do what it can to change the facility's image so it can rebuild trust and attract more doctors and patients.
Mayor David Archie noted that some city residents have said the facility should have Tarpon Springs in its name. Commissioner Jeff Larsen was among those saying Tarpon Springs should be part of the name.
However, Archie noted that the city hasn't been in the hospital's name in more than 20 years and residents seem okay with that.
The hospital was named Tarpon Springs Memorial Hospital when it was founded in 1927. It was called Tarpon Springs General Hospital from 1947 to 1988. It acquired the name of Helen Ellis Hospital in 1988 and became Helen Ellis Memorial upon her death in 1989.
After hearing from several officials and staff members of the hospital who sang the praises of Adventist and said the hospital had to adopt a more regional identity to survive, commissioners voted unanimously for the Florida Hospital North Pinellas name.
"I'm so happy all parties have come together on this," said Commissioner Susan Slattery.