Addressing Community Concerns Related to Health Care Costs
In rural communities, less competition among health care providers, as well as economic and market forces, often result in higher prices for health care services. This was the case in one Colorado mountain town, home to just one hospital, which was busy in the winter snow season but often slow in the off-season.
In national press reports the hospital received the dubious distinction of having some of the highest hospital costs in the country. The national news didn’t come as a surprise to locals, who had been fuming about high costs for years.
When the local newspaper ran a six-part series examining the high price of care in the mountains, community frustration directed at the hospital reached a tipping point. SE2 was brought in to help hospital leaders, who felt under siege, address the community’s growing concerns about the cost of health care.
The hospital’s efforts to explain its costs was not well-received. It centered its arguments on financial margins, the nature of a mountain-town business, and glossed over the hardship that high costs were having on the community. As a result, community anger grew among influential leaders, including the county commissioner, who took up the cause and demanded action.
SE2 developed a platform of messages that emphasized care and understanding in the face of a very challenging situation for the community, as well as a comprehensive communications plan to reach key segments of the population. The messages redirected some of the public ire by setting the record straight and educating the community about aspects of health care policy and pricing, which were acutely at play in this situation.
The messages also emphasized the many solutions that the hospital was pursuing to address the high cost of care for local community members. SE2 trained hospital leaders and board members on the messages and provided a detailed tactical outreach plan to ensure the messages reached the intended audiences of health care consumers, employers and business owners, and public and elected officials.
By proactively engaging with key members of the community, showing empathy, and clearly communicating the solutions they were seeking, hospital leaders were able to get off their heels and assume a more productive, assertive communications stance.
As a result, leaders in the community began to recognize the hospital as an engaged collaborator and committed forging solutions. Within key sectors of the community, we increased understanding of the many factors that influence the cost of health care — and the limited role of a single hospital provider.
Through earned media, in-person outreach and owned media, we conveyed to the community a clear understanding of the problem, genuine concern, and our progress on proposed solutions. Through these messages and by promoting the hospital’s significant investment in the local community, leaders and board members report the tension has greatly decreased.