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Tufts renames Floating Hospital for Children, sparking mixed reactions

The Floating Hospital for Children will now be known as Tufts Children’s Hospital.
The Floating Hospital for Children will now be known as Tufts Children’s Hospital.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

One more piece of Boston history has disappeared, as the Floating Hospital for Children was renamed and will now be known as Tufts Children’s Hospital.

To be clear, child-focused care at the hospital has not been conducted on a ship since 1927. It has been earthbound as one of the principal teaching hospitals for Tufts University School of Medicine, and it is owned by Tufts Medical Center, a 415-bed hospital.

The changeover took effect Monday with a ceremonial unveiling of the new name over an entrance to the facility by Dr. Geoff Binney, the pediatrician-in-chief.

“It’s a rich history, but unfortunately, even after all this time, the name hasn’t resonated with the people of Boston and surrounding towns,'' Binney said in a statement. "Changing the name to one aligned with the Tufts brand will help us receive attention commensurate with the outstanding pediatric care we have provided for more than a century.”

The Floating Hospital for Children was, indeed, once afloat. It all started in 1894 when a hospital ship arrived and began treating children from Boston’s neighborhoods. A second ship was used, but after it was destroyed in a fire in 1927, services were shifted onto land.

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“They tell us the story right when we are hired,” said clinical care technician in residency Alina Kukharchuk, 24. “The floor I work on is shaped as a boat, and there are photos [of the ship] everywhere.”

Among the hospital’s medical successes was the creation in 1919 of the first artificial breast milk — it’s still out there, called Similac — and the creation of the first pediatric trauma center in 1981.

But on Monday morning, employees learned their workplace had a new name. They were greeted by a new sign, face masks branded with the Tufts Children’s Hospital name, and a flier explaining the change.

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The rebranding was startling for some employees, who for years have taken pride in the hospital’s special name. An intensive care unit nurse — who declined to provide her name due to fear of retaliation — said the news made her “want to cry.”

She’s been working at the hospital for nearly three decades, and said she learned of the news from a Facebook post she read Tuesday morning. She said she thinks the rebranding to Tufts Children’s Hospital will make it harder for people to differentiate the hospital from other pediatric centers in the city, like Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Now we are just the other 'Children’s,’" she said. “What sets us apart?”

She said she has been reading social media posts from former employees, patients, and families who were also saddened by the change, and she doesn’t think the hospital “understands how emotionally tied people are to the 'Floating’ name."

Rhonda Mann, the interim vice president of marketing and communications at Tufts Medical Center, said the company knew some people would be apprehensive about the rebranding. But she said “people don’t search for a hospital based on its history,” so the new name would help the hospital’s visibility.

“If we had all of the marketing money in the world to really market and push out the ‘Floating’ name so it would become well-known, that may be a different story,” she said. “But the bottom line is we don’t and we never have.”

As a nod to the former name, the hospital’s new logo features four boat-shaped marks.

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Kukharchuk said she was shocked when she read about the new name on Facebook, since “it happened overnight and we didn’t know about it.” But she said she supports the change because she thinks it will be better for the community the hospital serves.

“Many times, for medical reasons, we have to ask children, ‘Where are you now?,' and kids simply say Tufts Children’s Hospital,” she said. “I feel proud to explain the story and the history, but I think the name change makes things easier, especially for kids.”

Mann said the change had been in the works for about three years, and its debut was slightly postponed because of the pandemic. She also said the cost of the rebranding was around $1 million — less than company’s annual marketing budget — and the changeover will happen over time.

Since the building — which will still be called “The Floating Building” — is undergoing renovations, its signs were going to replaced anyway, she added.

The hospital’s centers in Brockton, Chelmsford, Lawrence, and Woburn will also be renamed. The new name will be used in medical alliances with Signature Brockton Hospital, Cape Cod Hospital, Lawrence General Hospital, and MetroWest Medical Center, the hospital said. Tufts is part of the Wellforce health system, and the new name will also be used through affiliations with Lowell General Hospital and MelroseWakefield Hospital.

The name change for Tufts Children’s Hospital comes less than a year after Partners HealthCare, the state’s largest health care system, announced it would change its name to Mass General Brigham in a major rebranding effort.

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John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.