Greater Southeast Community Hospital, the long-troubled Ward 8 facility, is no more—-in name, anyway. This morning, hospital leaders, along with a gaggle of dignitaries, announced the hospital will be “rebranded” as United Medical Center. By the time LL left the press conference, workers outside were stringing up new temporary signs over the old ones.

The hospital is six months into an overhaul started by new owners Specialty Hospitals of America and financed in part by a $79 million bailout by the city. About $20 million of that is to be paid back, and the hospital took the opportunity today to present the city with the requisite “big check” representing its first $1 million payment.

Among the boldface names in the house for the show: Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, At-Large Councilmember and health committee chair David A. Catania, health department head Pierre Vigilance, former Ward 8 councilmembers Sandy Allen of Ward 8 and Nadine Winter of Ward 6, interim attorney general Peter Nickles, and former Redskin great George Starke, who will be serving a community liaison for the hospital. Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry strolled in about 50 minutes after the scheduled starting time, to the wildest applause of the day—-outstripping even Catania, who did the actual heavy lifting to keep the hospital open.

“Some of you may ask, what’s in a name?” said Specialty President Eric Rieseberg. “Not a whole lot actually.” Instead, he and colleagues pointed to a gaggle of new equipment being installed in the facility as evidence of progress, everything from radiology equipment to fetal heart monitors and sterilization machines. Improvements to the building’s physical plant continue, as well—-a blue tarp covers one side of the hospital tower where windows and walls are being repaired. Said Rieseberg, to a nervous laugh, “this building in the future will not only be windtight but also waterproof!”

But, said hospital CEO Gary Lowe, “we’re not out of the woods….We have a long time before we can begin to feel comfortable.”

Perhaps the biggest issue for the hospital going forward will be to establish its accreditation, which it lost late last year based on evaluations done before the Specialty takeover. After the loss of accreditation, several private insurers have refused to pay for care at the facility.

Rowe says the hospital could have appealed that ruling earlier this year, but chose not to. “I didn’t think we deserved to be accredited,” he says. Losing that appeal would have meant a two-year wait before another application could be submitted. Rowe says a new application will be submitted next month, in the hopes of having accreditation back in place by early 2009.