Abercrombie E.R?

March 13th, 2008

When I hear the name Abercrombie and Fitch,I think of clothes for high school students.  I think about clothes that are often too short but fun and always colorful, and I think about the loud music they always play in their stores that gives me a headache within two seconds of entering. 

So, I was a bit intrigued to hear that the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio was about to name their new emergency department and trauma center after Abercrombie and Fitch.  Why?  To acknowledge a $10 million donation recently made by the locally based retailer.

Let’s see. The Abercrombie and Fitch Emergency and Trauma Center.  Has a certain ring to it?  Maybe not.  Was I intrigued?  Yes.  Was I surprised?  No.  Corporate naming rights is everywhere these days, and usually delivers good Public Relations.

Just this past February, a new statewide policy was implemented in Michigan, allowing state parks and other Department of Natural Resources facilities to be named after private donors or corporations willing to cut a large enough check.  Community members were not happy to say the least, cringing at the prospect of driving by a Target Lagoon or taking a hike down the BMW Rail-Trail.

But people are particularly troubled by this growing naming practice in the hospital arena.  Currently, over a dozen hospitals across the country now have corporate or sponsor names, including the Mattel Children’s Hospital U.C.L.A. in Los Angeles and Hasboro Children’s Hospital, the pediatric division of Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

Returning to our original subject, renaming sections of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital was nothing new to this facility.  In fact, the Ohio-based hospital began as Columbus Children’s Hospital and recently renamed itself Nationwide Children’s Hospital when Nationwide Insurance donated $50 Million to the hospital.   Adding Nationwide to the hospital’s name was received with open arms by the hospital leaders, staff, and community members.  Naming the Emergency Unit after Abercrombie?  Not so much. 

A local coalition of children’s advocates made up of 15 organizations and 80 individuals is up in arms about this decision and is going to great lengths to get the hospital to rethink the decision to name the hospital after the retailer.  According to the coalition which includes the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Parents for Ethical Marketing, Abercrombie’s racy ads geared towards teens and pre-teens and controversial positioning is at odds with the mission of a Children’s Hospital.

For now, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital has not announced any plans to rescind the  Abercrombie deal, saying they like to focus on the philanthropic spirit of the donation. I’m guessing this is only the start of the debate. What’s appropriate for a hospital? Should there be any rules on this? Does A&F think this outs a halo on its image?  And… most importantly, is this helping to treat sick kids?

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