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What’s in a Name? Your Organization’s Identity

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, December 28, 2011

Sometimes a name change is exactly what an organization needs to refresh its identity, energize staff, and reintroduce itself to the community. But what happens when a name change doesn't work?

The Brattleboro Retreat was founded in 1834 as one of the earliest psychiatric hospitals in America, modeled on The York Retreat in England and based on the Quaker concept of "moral treatment." In the late '90s, the organization, which had grown into a 149-bed mental health and addiction treatment center, changed its name to "Retreat Healthcare." The leadership team at the time planned on turning the organization into a healthcare system and decided a name change would aid in the transition. Several satellite outpatient offices were opened during that time.

Over time, however, The Brattleboro Retreat's admissions and reputation among local medical professionals declined and it became evident that the new name didn't resonate with the community or staff.

"People didn't know what [Retreat Healthcare] was. Was it an insurance company?" says Julia Sorensen, the organization's director of marketing and communication. "But of course people did know what the Brattleboro Retreat was. That name had 100-plus years of brand equity and reflected the proud history of the hospital, which has always been at the forefront of mental health and addiction care."

In 2007, the leadership commissioned a market research study that looked at their center and other hospital-based and stand-alone psychiatry programs. The results showed that the marketplace had lost its sense of the organization's mission and goals.

So in 2008, leadership decided to launch a rebranding campaign, reverting to the previous name—"The Retreat," for short—and logo. This was a risky decision given that many stand-alone mental health facilities are closing their doors in today's healthcare environment. And recognizing that you've made a branding mistake is never easy.

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