Improving Local Communities’ Perception of Hospital Systems
Hospitals may be a business, but they face more scrutiny and are held to a higher standard than most other businesses.
Perhaps due to the fact that health care deals with intensely personal and emotional issues of life and death, but whatever the reason: Hospitals are seen as more than just a business – they are seen a reflection of the overall health of a community. This means that when local hospitals join systems, some view the move skeptically, as a betrayal of local roots and a move that threatens access to care – and economic vibrancy – in the local community.
This was the situation in a Colorado city when one of the two local hospitals joined a system, which is headquartered hours away in Denver. The move was met with resistance by the city’s business community, which joined forces to pen a highly critical letter to the CEO of the hospital system, accusing it of moving jobs to Denver and deprioritizing the community’s economic and health care interests.
The letter, published in the local paper, ignited indignation in the community, and soon hospital leaders and board members couldn’t go to the grocery store without being questioned about the news.
Feeling cornered and unable to move the conversation forward, the hospital system contracted SE2 to shift the narrative and help the community understand the many benefits of being part of a system.
SE2 began with a research process that included in-depth interviews with key hospital stakeholders, including leaders, board members and physicians, as well as community influencers, business leaders and elected officials.
SE2 then conducted two general-public focus groups with health care consumers. From this research, SE2 gleaned insights related to the most effective messaging angles and developed a robust platform of key messages tailored to the concerns of the target audiences of health care consumers and community leaders.
SE2 trained hospital leaders and board members on the key messages, ensuring each was prepared to be an effective messenger on behalf of the hospital – and prepared to answer the tough questions they were bound to receive.
SE2 also created a number of outreach materials, including a presentation slide deck and a fact sheet detailing the hospitals many community investments that support the local economy. Armed with messages, confidence and printed materials, hospital leaders embarked on a proactive networking and community outreach push, seeking audience with all influential groups (e.g., city council, county commissioners, Rotary, business chamber, etc.) and making one-on-one appointments with key influencers.
The result, though not immediate, has been a gradual but dramatic shift in the community dialogue.
No longer the subject of public ire, the media coverage of the hospital is more balanced and reflects the hospital’s perspective and its investments in the local community. Business leaders, once up in arms, went back to being partners and vendors.
Extremely pleased with the results, the hospital system made the project a model for how community relations in other cities and towns should be approached.
Since this project wrapped up, the hospital system has emulated this process at other hospital locations as an effective strategy to ease community tension and communicate the benefits of a system approach to hospital care.