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Truman Medical Centers drops the 'Truman' after 50 years and rebrands as University Health

John Williams
University Health Photography Specialist
Crews raise the "UH" circle onto the facade of the newly renamed University Health Truman Medical Center on 23rd and Holmes last week.

As presiding judge of the Jackson County Court, Harry Truman pushed through a bond issue in 1928 that led to the construction of Rural Jackson County Emergency Hospital on a one-time farm the court purchased in the mid-1800s for $1,000.

Truman Medical Centers/University Health has dropped “Truman” from its name and rebranded itself as University Health in a move meant to underscore its role as a teaching hospital.

Signage with the new name went up this week, bringing all of the organization’s hospitals and other affiliates under the University Health umbrella.

The Truman name hasn’t been discarded entirely. It remains to designate the organization’s signature facility on Hospital Hill, which will now be known as University Health Truman Medical Center. The organization’s other major facility, its hospital in eastern Jackson County, will be known as University Health Lakewood Medical Center.

Charlie Shields, president and CEO of University Health, said the rebranding process began several years ago, after the hospital network conducted focus groups with patients. The one thing that stood out, he said, was that they didn’t understand its role as an academic medical center.

“You know, we serve as the teaching hospital for UMKC School of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing and Dental. So we began a process of naming our outlying facilities Truman Medical Centers/University Health.

“And then we continued to do the research and found that is an important distinction, that we’re an academic medical center, so we made the move to rename the entire organization University Health, while at our two main hospitals retaining part of that (Truman) legacy.”

The history behind the name

The 33rd president’s name has been part of the hospital network’s moniker since the 1970s, when the Hospital Hill facility and UMKC School of Medicine were established as the Health Sciences District and joined with the old county hospital, which became Truman Medical Center East.

In fact, it was Truman who, as presiding judge of the Jackson County Court, pushed through a bond issue in 1928 that led to the construction of Rural Jackson County Emergency Hospital on a one-time farm the court purchased in the mid-1800s for $1,000.

The Hospital Hill facility traces its lineage to the old General Hospital, which was built in 1870 and was the first hospital in Kansas City. In the 1920s, when African American doctors, nurses and patients were excluded from most Kansas City hospitals, it was rebuilt as two racially segregated facilities, General Hospital No. 1 and General Hospital No. 2. Those two hospitals were combined in 1957.

The current Hospital Hill building at 23rd and Holmes owes its existence to a $102 million bond issue in 1967, when Jackson County asked voters to approve construction of Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums. The proposal included $14 million for a proposed teaching hospital on Hospital Hill and $2 million for upgrades to Jackson County Hospital.

The hospital issues received more than 80% of the vote, according to an account of the development of Hospital Hill by Albert Mauro, who was Hospital Hill’s planning coordinator. The new hospital, then known as Truman Medical Center, opened in 1979.

Shields said the main reason for the name change is to let people know of the hospital’s academic affiliation and its delivery of high-quality medical care as a result of that affiliation.

“We’re very proud, particularly of our medical staff, that we have the physicians that teach the physicians,” he said.

Shields said that’s all the more important because Truman is a safety net hospital that treats people regardless of their ability to pay.

The private, nonprofit health system gets tax revenues from Jackson County and Kansas City to help support its mission of caring for indigent patients.

“We want to make sure people understand that they get the very best care regardless of whether they have the best insurance or they have no insurance at all,” he said. “We deliver that same care in the same exact way.”

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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