Controversy continues to surround the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital


Zoe Lusk

Entrance to ZSFG Hospital on Jan. 20. By Zoe Lusk, Caboose Editor.

In 2015, after being known as the San Francisco General Hospital for more than 100 years, the institution was renamed after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, who donated $75 million to the hospital. Now known as the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG), the name change continues to be contentious due to the controversy surrounding Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Facebook’s recent scandals have been centered around the harvesting and selling of data from users to third-party companies without explicit user consent. The social media service has also garnered criticism for not doing enough to protect their users from fake news stories and for their failure to combat Russian efforts to sway the 2016 U.S. election through Facebook. In addition, Facebook has been blamed for not properly regulating advertisements, news sources, and bots on their website.

In the closing weeks of 2018, a report from the New York Times also revealed that Facebook had shared user data with other tech companies, including Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, and Microsoft, without explicit user consent. The report also revealed that the social-networking platform had given some companies access to Facebook users’ private messages and contacts.

As a result of these scandals, Facebook’s public image has suffered. Despite being used by over 214 million Americans, a poll from Axios found that only 48 percent of US adults had a favorable view of Facebook in March 2018, down from 61 percent in October of 2017.

Since the hospital’s renaming, the controversy surrounding Facebook in the media has created concern among hospital workers and community members. In May of 2018, nurses took time away from their work to tape over the Zuckerberg name in protest. And in November of 2018, the city considered removing Zuckerberg’s name from the hospital. Aaron Peskin, District 3 Supervisor, asked to explore “the procedure for the removal of the Zuckerberg name from San Francisco General Hospital” and to revisit the city’s policy on giving naming rights in exchange for donations, according to Business Insider.

Despite the controversy, Chan and Zuckerberg’s donation was greatly beneficial to the institution because city funding was only able to cover the hospital’s construction.

“If you took the building and turned it upside down before the donation, nothing would fall out,” said Dr. Justin Sewell, Clinical Director of Gastroenterology at ZSFG, in an interview with the Urban Legend. “[The taxpayer bond] did not cover any of the essential equipment or furnishings needed inside of the building.”

Another doctor wondered about the city’s role in securing a donor. “I think when the new hospital was conceived, and the city was trying to fundraise for the hospital – I’m not an expert in financing – but [the city government] certainly did not estimate enough money [to avoid] bringing in donors,” said Dr. Ma Samsouk, Associate Professor of Medicine at UCSF.

Dr. Samsouk was hesitant about the hospital bearing Zuckerberg’s name. “I understand the benefit of having a private donor, and what it means for the community when you have an individual who wants to do good and wants to convey an image of giving to the community. I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen [Zuckerberg] to name it after… I think personally, as a public hospital, there doesn’t need to be a private name, especially a controversial one, attached to it.”

Dr. Samsouk also expressed concern that Facebook’s current reputation has had negative impacts on the hospital’s image. “With all the stuff that’s happening around Facebook, it makes the hospital seem like there are ways in which we are acting that aren’t completely honest, or maybe we’re doing things with a different agenda, which is not true,” Dr. Samsouk said. “I know that there is some public opinion that we have kind of lost our character. What if Zuckerberg does something that’s morally and clearly unacceptable, what kinds of clauses are there, in terms of naming rights, do we have to pull us back from this association?” he said.

Dr. Sewell was also apprehensive. “It’s a little funny to name it after an individual person because people are fallible,” he said. Reflecting on the public opinion about the name change, he said,  “I think there’s something about a hospital or health care that makes [those institutions] a little more special or sacrosanct, that has triggered these emotional reactions.”

Despite concerns raised by community members about the appropriateness of the Zuckerberg name, Brent Andrew, Director of Communications at ZSFG, recently told the Urban Legend that “we have no plans to change the name of the hospital.”