In the spot­light

Me­dia cov­er­age of a hospi­tal’s mov­ing day brings re­wards as well as risks

Modern Healthcare - - Construction Digest -

Few things a hospi­tal does are more ex­pen­sive than open­ing a new fa­cil­ity, but the move from one place to an­other also of­fers one of the great­est chances for hit­ting the “free ad­ver­tis­ing” jack­pot—as well as cre­at­ing other low-cost mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. It can also carry con­sid­er­able risk if the move does not go smoothly and ev­ery me­dia out­let in town is on hand to cover the de­ba­cle.

Ac­cord­ing to Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Aurora, Colo., some 65 dif­fer­ent me­dia sto­ries cov­er­ing its Sept. 29, 2007, move of 111 pa­tients from its old fa­cil­ity in down­town Den­ver to its new build­ing in the sub­urbs reached an es­ti­mated au­di­ence of 5 mil­lion peo­ple. Over the course of 17 months, there were nearly 125 news re­ports in re­gional and lo­cal me­dia out­lets dis­cussing the new hospi­tal, ac­cord­ing to Chil­dren’s.

This type of cov­er­age wasn’t lost on the mar­ket­ing/com­mu­ni­ca­tion depart­ment at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Nashville, which opened a 141-bed, $169 mil­lion crit­i­cal­care tower on Nov. 14, 2009, and moved 63 pa­tients over a six-hour pe­riod that day.

“We knew the day of the move was an op­por­tu­nity to show­case the fa­cil­ity and the care we pro­vide,” says John Howser, Van­der­bilt’s di­rec­tor of news and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “With the econ­omy be­ing what it’s been, it’s re­ally flat­tened our mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get, so there weren’t dol­lars to spend ad­ver­tis­ing the new tower. … But I wouldn’t have done any­thing dif­fer­ent, even if we had money for bill­boards and large news­pa­per ads.”

Sen­si­tive is­sues

At Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal, ad­min­is­tra­tors had to deal with a del­i­cate pub­lic re­la­tions is­sue that came with the move, and it was some­thing that started al­most as soon as it was an­nounced that the hospi­tal would be leav­ing its 250-bed fa­cil­ity in Den­ver for a new $560 mil­lion, 284-bed build­ing in the sub­urbs on the new An­schutz Med­i­cal Cam­pus on the de­com­mis­sioned site of the old Fitzsi­mons Army Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“The ac­tual process of the move was seven years in the plan­ning,” says Natalie Gold­stein, me­dia re­la­tions man­ager at Chil­dren’s. “One thing they iden­ti­fied that might re­sult in neg­a­tive cov­er­age was the idea that ‘Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal was leav­ing the down­town area and go­ing to Aurora.’ ”

To main­tain its down­town pres­ence, Chil­dren’s opened a new 16-bed fa­cil­ity on the Ex­em­pla St. Joseph Hospi­tal cam­pus called Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal at St. Joseph Hospi­tal. And, to help counter any neg­a­tive cov­er­age about Chil­dren’s “aban­don­ing” down­town, the St. Joseph fa­cil­ity was opened three weeks be­fore the new hospi­tal opened in Aurora.

In ad­di­tion to the risk of a neg­a­tive slant linked to hurt feel­ings from a hospi­tal’s old com­mu­nity be­ing left be­hind, is the pos­si­bil­ity that the move doesn’t go smoothly and pa­tients’ pri­vacy rights are not re­spected.

On Dec. 15, 2009, in the far north­west sub­urbs of Chicago, El­gin, Ill.-based Sher­man Health moved 85 pa­tients—in­clud­ing 10 classified as crit­i­cal—from its old 254-bed Sher-

man Hospi­tal to its new $325 mil­lion, 255-bed hospi­tal more than four miles away.

Sher­man spokesman Josh McColough says plan­ners had a strat­egy for what to do if the me­dia made a big is­sue about any glitches that occurred dur­ing the move.

“The first thing our plan­ning team would say is that ‘There will be no glitches,’ and their con­tin­gency plans had con­tin­gency plans,” McColough says. “I asked them, ‘What would hap­pen if?’ and they said, ‘There is no if.’ They had plans for ev­ery­thing with binders upon binders.”

Howser says the at­ti­tude was the same at Van­der­bilt.

“I un­der­stand that a news or­ga­ni­za­tion is a news or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Howser says. “But I have to have a cer­tain amount of faith in what we’re do­ing and I knew that we were leav­ing a lit­tle bit up to chance. If some­thing went wrong it would’ve ended up on tape, and it would have been up to them whether to use it or not.”

At Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal, Gold­stein says it was agreed that the me­dia would not cover any emer­gen­cies or “some­thing un­ex­pected.”

“They hon­ored the re­quest,” Gold­stein says. “We ba­si­cally told them what they could and could not do.”

Chuck Mur­phy, pub­lic af­fairs ed­i­tor at the Den­ver Post, re­mem­bers it dif­fer­ently.

“We ab­so­lutely made no such agree­ment with Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal—not to pub­li­cize prob­lems that might hap­pen,” Mur­phy says. “We did point out sev­eral prob­lems with the move.”

Th­ese in­cluded el­e­va­tors not work­ing prop­erly and de­lays in mov­ing pa­tients, but Mur­phy adds that “we know of no in­stances where pa­tient care was jeop­ar­dized.”

Chil­dren’s spokes­woman El­iz­a­beth White­head clar­i­fies Gold­stein’s re­marks and says there was an “in­for­mal agree­ment” with the me­dia on hand.

“We told them, ‘Ev­ery­thing we do is for the pa­tients’ safety, and we may ask you to step out,’ and they said, ‘Of course, I un­der­stand,’ ” White­head says. “They all agreed to co­op­er­ate if we needed them to step out for the pa­tients’ safety.”

Ad­dress­ing pri­vacy

Pa­tient pri­vacy was also re­spected, and the key is to ask which pa­tients would agree to be pho­tographed or filmed, which ones would agree to be in­ter­viewed, and which ones didn’t want any­thing to do with the me­dia.

Gold­stein says a fam­ily with a baby in the neona­tal in­ten­sive-care unit was iden­ti­fied, and a “pool” cam­era­man fol­lowed the mother and child through the move and shared the video with the other me­dia out­lets.

“The me­dia played re­ally well with each other,” Gold­stein says, adding that hospi­tal of­fi­cials also gave a brief­ing while the move was in progress.

Also, to help iden­tify who was who, pa­tients whose fam­i­lies agreed to be pho­tographed had green pen­nant flags at­tached to their beds, wheel­chairs or in their hands; those who agreed to talk but didn’t want to be pho­tographed had pur­ple flags; and those who were off-lim­its had red flags. Gold­stein says T-shirts and hats were also dis­cussed as pos­si­ble iden­ti­fiers be­fore flags were set­tled on. Mur­phy says that was a good strat­egy. “We did con­sider that rea­son­able be­cause it al­lowed us to do our job ef­fi­ciently,” Mur­phy ex­plains. “Oth­er­wise, we’d have to con­stantly ne­go­ti­ate with a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer or be ad­ver­sar­ial—but it didn’t mean we wouldn’t re­port any prob­lems or bury neg­a­tive com­ments from pa­tients.”

Howser says the lo­cal news­pa­pers didn’t show up for the Van­der­bilt move, but four Nashville-area tele­vi­sion sta­tions did, and each was of­fered its choice of cov­er­ing the moves of six dif­fer­ent pre-iden­ti­fied pa­tients whose trans­fer times would be stag­gered so the sta­tions wouldn’t be get­ting in each other’s way or in the way of the staff and pa­tients.

“We work with them all the time, so they’re fa­mil­iar with the con­cept of fed­eral pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions—if not the nuts and bolts, at least with how they work,” Howser says. “They knew they weren’t sup­posed to film pa­tients who hadn’t pre-con­sented.”

A com­pli­ca­tion they had, how­ever, was that it was all in­ten­sive-care pa­tients be­ing moved, so they were looking for the least sick

of the very sick. Be­cause of that, Howser says, “there was re­ally only one pa­tient that was highly con­ver­sa­tional.”

In con­trast, McColough says some Sher­man pa­tients re­ally en­joyed their mo­ment in the sun, and a few even had their hair done for the oc­ca­sion.

“The ones we iden­ti­fied in ad­vance didn’t need to be talked into it,” McColough says. “It was a pretty straight­for­ward ques­tion. We said, ‘There is go­ing to be me­dia here to­mor­row and would you be will­ing to be pho­tographed and in­ter­viewed?’ ”

Sher­man also had a pool cam­era shoot­ing video for the me­dia to share, but McColough says some news out­lets had two sets of re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers or film crews with the one team cov­er­ing the pa­tients’ de­par­ture from the old fa­cil­ity and an­other cov­er­ing their ar­rival at the new hospi­tal.

The move started at 7 a.m. and was fin­ished at about 4:15 p.m. with some 15 am­bu­lances trans­port­ing one pa­tient ev­ery four to five min­utes. At least one sta­tion had a he­li­copter film­ing the pro­ces­sion, McColough says.

“It was a pretty vis­i­ble route they were tak­ing, so the he­li­copter got some dra­matic shots,” he re­calls.

The pa­tients who agreed to be in­ter­viewed and pho­tographed had green blan­kets with the hospi­tal logo on their beds.

“The me­dia were great with re­spect­ing that, be­cause there was a whole pa­rade of pa­tients com­ing through the doors, and they re­spected those bound­aries,” McColough says. “They re­spected pa­tient pri­vacy and rec­og­nized that came first be­fore get­ting the story or the per­fect cam­era an­gle. By iden­ti­fy­ing in ad­vance who’d be will­ing to speak, we made sure it wouldn’t be a me­dia free-for-all.”

While the me­dia re­spected the pri­vacy of the 85 pa­tients who were trans­ferred, McColough adds that the re­ports weren’t all en­tirely ac­cu­rate—with the num­ber of pa­tients in­volved in the move vary­ing in some sto­ries from 80 to 150.

“I don’t know how that hap­pened,” he says.

Not ‘re­porter-friendly’

McColough ac­knowl­edges that the fed­eral pri­vacy pro­vi­sions of the Health In­sur­ance Porta­bil­ity and Ac­count­abil­ity Act are not “very re­porter-friendly.”

“They have to go through us be­fore they get to a pa­tient,” he says, ex­plain­ing that the aim of HIPAA is pre­vent­ing dis­clo­sure and in­ap­pro­pri­ate ac­cess to pa­tient in­for­ma­tion as well as pro­tect­ing a pa­tient’s iden­tity.

“We also want pa­tients to know, first and fore­most, that we’re not just giv­ing their in­for­ma­tion out,” McColough says.

Mov­ing days have also be­come an ed­u­ca­tional “field trip” for other hos­pi­tals plan­ning a move. McColough says Sher­man’s move was at­tended by plan­ners from Chil­dren’s Memo­rial Hospi­tal in Chicago and Rock­ing­ham Memo­rial Hospi­tal in Harrisonburg, Va.; Sher­man’s plan­ners watched pa­tients move from the old Lake East Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Painesville, Ohio, to the new TriPoint Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Con­cord Town­ship last Oc­to­ber.

Chil­dren’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives watched their new neigh­bors on the An­schutz Med­i­cal Cam­pus—the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado Hospi­tal—do part of its phased move into their new fa­cil­ity about four months be­fore Chil­dren’s con­ducted its all-in-one-day move.

Howser says Van­der­bilt’s re­cent move used lessons learned when pa­tients were moved into the new Mon­roe Carell Jr. Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal at Van­der­bilt in Fe­bru­ary 2004.

“It worked out very well,” Howser says. “So I knew we could pull it off again and there wouldn’t be any prob­lems—even though th­ese pa­tients as a whole were sicker than the chil­dren we moved in ’04.”

Both Sher­man and Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Colorado con­tracted pub­lic re­la­tions firms they had worked with in the past to have ex­tra com­mu­ni­ca­tions per­son­nel on hand to help man­age the me­dia. Chil­dren’s also hired a com­pany to pro­duce a 30-minute doc­u­men­tary of the move that has been posted on its Web site.

McColough says he would dis­agree with some­one who might ar­gue that this was ma­nip­u­lat­ing the me­dia in try­ing to milk as much free ad­ver­tis­ing as pos­si­ble.

“The idea of hav­ing me­dia avail­able for that day wasn’t just ex­pected, it was en­cour­aged,” McColough says. “It was an his­toric event. New hos­pi­tals in the Chicago area don’t open ev­ery day.”

At Van­der­bilt, the move was pre­ceded by a Nov. 5, 2009 rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony and me­dia tours of the new fa­cil­ity.

“It’s my job to pro­mote and mar­ket the ser­vices we of­fer,” Howser says. The hospi­tal “ad­min­is­tra­tion felt great about the cov­er­age be­cause it was no-cost pub­lic­ity.

“But it’s also a le­git­i­mate news story—the fact that we’ve added a fa­cil­ity like this,” Howser adds. “Here in Nashville, that’s a pretty sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment: $169 mil­lion.”

Even Mur­phy at the Den­ver Post, who says hos­pi­tals some­times seek to man­u­fac­ture news, says the move to the new Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal wasn’t me­dia ma­nip­u­la­tion or overkill.

“There have been times when deal­ing with hos­pi­tals—in­clud­ing Chil­dren’s—when I’ve thought, ‘ Enough is enough,’ but not this time,” Mur­phy ex­plains. “In this case, I thought the cov­er­age was jus­ti­fied. It was a ma­jor news story in its own right.”

Above, the last pa­tient to be trans­ported to new digs for Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal leaves the old fa­cil­ity in down­town Den­ver on mov­ing day in Septem­ber of 2007. At left, a young pa­tient makes good use of the down­time dur­ing her trip to the new $560 mil­lion fa­cil­ity in sub­ur­ban Aurora, Colo.

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