Rebranding Is Culmination of Two-Year Process to Strengthen Patient-Focused Culture

November 2, 2014

by Sheryl S. Jackson

Sheryl S. JacksonSince its humble beginnings in 1895, the 20-bed Macon (GA) Hospital has grown to become the Central Georgia Health System. It comprises the Medical Center of Central Georgia, a 637-bed, full-service, acute care hospital, along with 30 entities that include other clinics, specialty-care centers, and community hospitals.

In September 2014, the health system revealed a new name—Navicent Health. The reason for the rebranding: Increase awareness of the organization’s scope of services throughout the region.

Rebranding necessary to tie all organizational entities together

Ranked as one of the top two hospitals in Georgia by U.S. News and World Report and recognized as a leader in 11 specialty categories, the reputation of the Macon hospital was well established, but the lack of consistent use of the health system name meant other entities in the health system were not perceived as part of the same organization.

“We have a strong local reputation but the health system has a primary service area of 30 counties and serves patients from nearly 80 percent of Georgia’s 159 counties,” explains Ninfa Saunders, President and Chief Executive Officer of Navicent Health.

There were several reasons for renaming and rebranding the system, one of which was to move away from a geographically based name that limited the perception of service area. “The new name, chosen after a nine-month process of testing over 1,000 different possibilities, represents the health system’s commitment to assist patients as they navigate the path of care,” Saunders adds. “The second part of the name emphasizes our focus on keeping patients at the center of every decision.”

The unveiling of the new name and logo at a nationally broadcast press conference culminated two years of planning and work, says Saunders. “Rebranding is more than a new name,” she points out. She compares a new name to an intriguing title of a book. “The chapters in the book must be substantial to keep readers interested, just as we have to be sure we deliver on the promise in our name.”

A two-year process involving patients, employees, and physicians

The rebranding effort began 23 months before the unveiling of the new name. The two-year process included gathering feedback from patients, employees, and physicians about the health system, and then communicating the vision of patient-centered, people-focused care throughout all health system entities, says Saunders.

“Rebranding begins with the organization’s culture and people,” she says. “We focused on accountability and patient focus in all communications with staff—group meetings, one-on-one meetings and publications,” she explains. “We were not significantly changing the organizational culture, but we were strengthening it and making sure it was the same throughout all locations, not just the Macon hospital.”

Because accountability and continuous process improvement are a core value of the health system, Navicent Health is also rolling out a system-wide quality care initiative and a multiyear implementation of the Six Sigma process-driven methodology.

“Throughout the two-year process, we’ve promoted transparency and asked for feedback as we were communicating the vision,” says Saunders. “We don’t want employees, patients, or physicians to tell us what they think we want to hear. We want to get real feedback on our organization’s performance,” she says. The quality care and process improvement initiatives will include continuous satisfaction surveys. “We want to make sure patients’ actual experience reflects what we say we will provide,” she says.

Alliance membership increases the need for cohesive, consistent branding

The health system’s name change comes one year after the launch of a multihospital alliance, Stratus Healthcare. The Medical Center of Central Georgia was a founding member.

The alliance’s 23 hospital members agree to share best practices, combine resources, and develop coordinated information systems to enhance collaboration throughout the region. The member hospitals share services but remain independent, explains Saunders. Becoming a part of a larger alliance increased the need to establish a cohesive, consistent brand throughout all of Central Georgia’s facilities, she says.

Although all materials, including signage, brochures, business cards, and stationery, will transition to the name Navicent, Saunders says the transition will occur over time. “We want to be judicious as we look at the costs of rebranding,” she explains, adding that “the name badges for all employees and the website” were the first elements to completely change over. As supplies of brochures and other printed materials, including hospital forms, are depleted, the new name and logo will be used on the newly printed items. “The costs can be significant, so replacing signage and other significant items must be carefully planned so we remain fiscally responsible,” Saunders points out.

Patient, persistent PR is crucial

Her hospital system has never spent much money on advertising, and Saunders says that although some local advertising will be placed to reinforce the name, the majority of public awareness activities will occur through public relations efforts, social media, and ongoing support of community activities.

“The initial press coverage surrounding the name change did have results,” she says. “I wore a Navicent T-shirt to the grocery store after the name change announcement and a woman in the store immediately recognized it as the new hospital name,” she says. Saunders also received a call from her son, who attends a local college. “He told me that his marketing professor pulled a copy of the newspaper article about the name change and used it as the basis for class discussion.”

When asked for advice for rebranding a health system, Saunders recommends patience. When she arrived at the health system as chief executive officer two years ago, she first evaluated the organization to determine how it was perceived by different stakeholders, whether the right services were in place, and if employees were prepared for a culture change.

“People are the foundation of any change, so the first step is to make sure employees and physicians understand the vision and have the tools they need to reach the level of excellence you want your brand to represent,” she says. “Before you identify your organization as committed to excellent, patient-focused care, be sure the people and services you have in place are able to deliver on that promise.”

Sheryl S. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health care management and marketing topics. She can be reached at