Thomas Jefferson Health District changing its name to Blue Ridge Health District

Thomas Jefferson Health District changing its name to Blue Ridge Health District

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The Thomas Jefferson Health District will be switching to a new name next year.

TJHD will change its name to Blue Ridge Health District effective January 2021. The health district said wanted to address the impact of racism on health and choose a name that was more inclusive.

The memory of Thomas Jefferson carries a lot of weight in and around Charlottesville. In recent times, it is sparking even more controversy

“He is certainly an important historical figure in this area, but he also owned slaves,” District Director Dr. Denise Bonds said. “Descendants of his slaves live in our community and that creates a real barrier for those individuals to come in and seek services.”

Dr. Bonds says the renaming process started two years ago when a Kresge Foundation grant allowed TJHD to dive deeper into equity issues.

“One of the things that came out of some of that early work was that our name presented a barrier," Dr. Bonds said. "Some of our staff members expressed concern with the name and then, community members have also expressed some concern with the name.”

She says when compared to other health departments, TJHD is an anomaly.

“We were only one of two districts that are actually named after an individual rather than a geographic landmark or the locality in which they’re located in,” Dr. Bonds said.

All of those reasons went into the decision process, especially since the health district encompasses more than just Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

“We really wanted to have a name that was going to be encompassing of all of our geographic area that was more aligned with other health districts that are named after geographic landmarks and a name that was non-problematic for individuals who live in our community,” Dr. Bonds said.

While many names were on the table, Dr. Bonds says Blue Ridge easily took the top spot. “I’ll have to say that Blue Ridge Health District was the overwhelming favorite by the staff and by our community partners who were very excited to move forward with this thing.”

Dr. Bonds wants everyone to know the health district went through a long process with lots of input to get to this point. “We saw a lot of input both internally from our staff members and externally from community members and partners that we work with on a regular basis, so we tried to be as inclusive as we could.”

Over the next few weeks, the district will be adding a webpage where you can follow along with the district’s process on equity work.

“Changing our name is symbolic of the deeper work we are doing as an organization to create an inclusive, equitable environment for our staff and clients and to acknowledge and address the impact of racism on health,” Bonds said in a news release Tuesday, October 6. “Our mission is to ensure the health and wellbeing of all community members and it is critical that our name reflects all of the communities we serve.”

The Thomas Jefferson Health District serves the city of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties.

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