Not everyone's happy about HealthEast buying the name to the Bielenberg Center

HealthEast could pay more than $3 million for naming rights of the Woodbury facility.

HealthEast could pay more than $3 million for naming rights of the Woodbury facility.

Bielenberg Sports Center in Woodbury isn't an athletic complex. It's a palace, with a 90,000-square-foot indoor field house, two ice arenas, and the eastern metro area's first "completely handicapped accessible inclusive playground."

The $22 million center opened in 2014, named after Orville Bielenberg, the city's first mayor. But using the former leader's name is so yesterday. Bielenberg is dead and can't pay to have his name emblazoned on the structure. But HealthEast certainly can.   

The Woodbury City Council approved HealthEast's sponsorship deal last week. The naming rights agreement with Woodbury's largest employer will pay the suburb $126,000 annually for the next 14 years to rename the facility HealthEast SportsCenter. Once the contract expires, the medical giant will have the option to ink a $1.5 million extension for the ensuing five years.  

HealthEast is a nonprofit health care provider headquartered in the Twin Cities, with four hospitals and 14 clinics.

"This becomes a place where we will have a presence, not just a name on the door," says spokesperson Tracy Miland. "We already have two clinics in Woodbury, so it's not our intention to operate a clinic there, but to bring the things that we can to have more like a [satellite] location."

These services, according to Miland, might include educational sessions like healthy eating seminars, flu shot clinics, and concussion testing for youth athletes. 

"We don't do a whole lot of marketing or advertising.… [but] if you look at the number of people we will be reaching each year, hundreds or thousands, and the annual cost to do that, there's no other marketing or advertising that would allow us to do this for the same amount."

Minnesota Nurses Association spokesperson Carrie Mortrud doesn't share Miland's enthusiasm for the deal.

She questions the wisdom of HealthEast spending millions on naming rights at the same time the nonprofit has nearly 70 vacancies for nursing positions at its various locations, according to HealthEast's careers website

The vacancies range from an operating room RN at St. Joseph's Hospital in Maplewood to a nurse in a triage center in South St. Paul. 

Mortrud is also quick to point out that the state has a surplus of qualified nurses looking for work. Last year, about 10,000 new RNs entered the job market in Minnesota.

The naming rights outlay speaks to an out-of-whack spending priorities, according to Mortrud. 

"As a consumer, I would much rather have an excellent experience where there were plenty of staff who took time to teach me what I needed to know before discharge, etc., etc. That I would take as much more important than driving past the Bielenberg facility that's now HeathEast.