GASTONIA, N.C. -- The chair of the Gaston Board of Commissioners is calling for the resignation of two members of the county hospital system’s board of trustees who are related to employees of a company hired to rebrand the former Gaston Memorial Hospital.
At issue are two members of CaroMont Health’s board of trustees – David Smith and Chairman Spurgeon Mackie. Neither could be reached for comment late Monday.
Smith’s son, David Smith Jr., is the co-founder of Immortology, the marketing firm the hospital hired to oversee its $2.5 million rebranding, according to the Gaston Gazette. Immortology also employs Haddon Mackie, the daughter of Spurgeon Mackie.
“Our perception is two board members have family members who have received financial gains from this marketing concept,” Mickey Price, chairman of the board of commissioners, told the Observer.
Price said the hospital’s board of trustees didn’t vote to hire Immortology and said he does not think nepotism was at play. But, he said, trustees “are very hesitant about coming forward with any information that could clear things up.”
CaroMont spokeswoman Dallas Paddon told the Gazette on Monday that hospital administrators – not the board of trustees – made the decision to hire Immortology.
“Our professional relationship with Immortology posed no conflict of interest,” she said in an email to the Gazette. “They and other firms were interviewed prior to making a hiring decision. We chose to work with this company based solely on their proven track record in successfully transforming and reviving companies’ brands.”
Immortology was hired to help rebrand the hospital system in a county with a health ranking of 81st among North Carolina’s 100 counties. It’s unclear how much of the cost of the campaign goes to the marketing company.
The campaign included a controversial name change for Gaston Memorial Hospital, which is now CaroMont Regional Medical Center. Trustees also introduced a controversial slogan: “Cheat Death.”
“People in the community and people that worked at CaroMont were embarrassed by it,” Gaston County commissioner Jason Williams told the Observer on Sunday.
The slogan traveled quickly from T-shirts worn by CaroMont staff to national news, including stories in the Washington Post and New York Times.
On Saturday night, Randall Kelley, the CEO and president of CaroMont, sent an email to trustees announcing that the company would take another look at the slogan: “We will pause on the initiative long enough to consider a rallying cry that will unite us and put the attention where it needs to be – providing every man, woman and child in Gaston County the opportunity to live longer and healthier lives.”
The private, nonprofit Gaston Memorial Hospital was established in 1946. The county owns the land and leases the buildings and property to CaroMont for $1 per year. County commissioners appoint 13 of the 14 members of the hospital board of trustees.
But Price said the board of commissioners probably doesn’t have any power to remove hospital board members.