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Will hospital-naming directive cause donation chilling effect?

The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care’s proposed hospital-naming directive may have a chilling effect on large donations to these facilities in Ontario, says Toronto health lawyer Kathy O’Brien.

“This is new — there weren’t rules in place before that dealt with how a hospital could be named,” she tells

O’Brien, a partner with DDO Health Law, says that while the province sent out a notice in August 2015 indicating that the minister’s approval was required when naming a hospital, there were no formal directives or rules.

The draft directive, for which there is a public consultation process underway, will change that, O’Brien says.  

“It’s really about naming hospitals after donors,” she says. “The new rules propose that a hospital’s name cannot include the business name of a corporate donor or the family name of patrons. I think the purpose of this directive is to ensure that hospitals reflect that they are part of a publicly funded health-care system.”

O’Brien says the directive also indicates that having a hospital named after a donor could unduly influence its operations or practices, and undermine public confidence in the facility or the public health care system.

She explains the directive covers all hospital corporations and individual sites.

“A legal entity could cover multiple sites,” she says. 

“For example, University Health Network has Toronto Western, Toronto General, and Princess Margaret hospitals. The directive also covers individual hospitals comprised of one site. It also governs alliances, partnerships and other associations between hospitals. Some hospitals get together and operate under one network or alliance name.”

O’Brien says the directive doesn’t cover wings or buildings that aren’t substantially part of a hospital site.

“It doesn’t apply to research and treatment centres or to individual programs and services,” she says. 

O'Brien says the directive indicates that hospitals have to be named in accordance with the public interest and reflect the geographic location, clinical mandate, the people it serves, their culture or heritage, or the facility's history.

She says many people in the health sector suspect that the directive was sparked by the renaming of Toronto East General Hospital, which received a $50-million donation from the Garron family in 2015 to honour their deceased son.

“In this case, the entire corporation changed its name to the Michael Garron Hospital. There was no ministry approval required for that at the time,” she says. “And that’s not the only hospital that has been named after a donor but it is the most prominent.”

If the new directive goes into effect, O’Brien says it doesn’t appear as if it will be retroactive and will only apply to the naming of hospitals going forward.

She says people in the health sector are passionate about the issue of hospital-naming rights. Some say that the name should not be bought with a donation, while others maintain that since health-care infrastructure is so costly, large donations are important enough to warrant it. 

“The issue is causing discussion in the sector about what is appropriate for these publicly funded and owned institutions,” she says. “Hospitals are desperate for revenue, and private and corporate donations are really important sources of revenue — is this going to cause a chilling effect?”

With naming rights such a large part of generating revenue in the business world these days, O’Brien notes that public institutions need money just as much. 

"And if it doesn’t come from donors who are seeking naming rights, it has to come from the taxpayer,” she says. "Public institutions such as hospitals, universities and colleges have become increasingly reliant on these philanthropic donations, and donors want some recognition in return. These are negotiated arrangements. One wonders what the impact will be on the sector." 

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