Big Changes to Local Hospital Can Be Bitter Medicine for Community
When a hospital in a medium-sized Colorado city drastically reduced service lines in order to remain financially viable, the community outcry was fierce. In addition to nearly 300 positions eliminated, the change resulted in many of the hospital’s medical services closing as it moved to consolidate and focus on its areas of clinical strength.
The community response grew more pointed in the wake of the announcement, and hospital leaders found themselves overwhelmed by the uproar. Back on their heels, hospital leaders were defending against attacks from the press, from partners, from angry staff members, and from the community at large.
Surprised by the level of emotion and negativity in the public response, the hospital contracted SE2 to help manage the communications, public relations and community outreach during the transition as layoffs were made and service lines closed.
SE2 worked intensively with the in-house communications/marketing team for six months, spanning the weeks following the public announcement, through the period of layoffs and throughout the closure of discontinued service lines.
We began by laying a foundation and drafting a comprehensive document of key messages aimed at clarifying service changes, emphasizing our support for impacted employees and correcting misperceptions.
From the messaging foundation, the strategy in the first three months following the announcement was twofold: restart and reenergize stalled communications, including internal emails, proactive outreach to key stakeholders, social media, and the website; and aggressively seek earned media coverage to spread our key messages broadly in the community.
The latter half of the project continued the focus on strong communications fundamentals noted above but also sought to turn the page on the painful announcement by focusing the messaging on the hospital’s future, its providers, and the quality of its clinical services.
The results of SE2’s collaboration with the hospital were dramatic. With rumors that the hospital would close swirling in the community, patient and referral volumes dropped precipitously across the hospital.
SE2 worked to place 12 positive media stories in local news outlets, including a guest editorial from the hospital CEO; a poignant profile of a patient in the cancer center; and a day-in-the-life feature of the air medical transport team. SE2 led a community stakeholder outreach strategy to help the hospital leaders reach and win over key community players as an “influence the influencer” approach.
SE2 also took over content creation for social media, including producing eight videos for social media that highlight the hospital’s providers and quality service lines. Over the course of our contract, social media engagement was strong and sustained. Specifically, negative Facebook comments dropped, as a percentage of each post’s total number of comments, from over 80 percent negative to under 20 percent.
And video profiles of physicians performed extremely well, garnering hundreds of reactions, dozens of shares, and tens of thousands of views on each post. By the time SE2 ended our engagement, patient volumes had returned to pre-announcement levels.