Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don’t: A Hospital Public Relations Brouhaha

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

seattle timesThere’s something unsettling about the healthcare article in The Seattle Times last week; it seems a bit out of balance. We’re guessing that the hospital public relations professionals in the Puget Sound area are scratching their heads over this one also.

Is this a legitimate news story or a media-invented tempest in a teapot? The headline reads, ER building boom is wrong prescription, critics say. And the publication’s quick summary declares, “As health-care costs spiral ever upward, hospitals race to build free-standing emergency rooms and expand existing ERs. Hospitals say it makes business sense, but critics say the hospital arms race is too costly for businesses, government and families.”

It reads like fuel for a first class hospital PR ruckus. See the Times article here and ask yourself, how would you respond to a journalistic piece like this in your service area? Are Swedish Medical Center, Evergreen Hospital Medical Center and others in trouble for improving services and facilities to benefit residents in the region? Are they being “damned if they do, and damned if they don’t?” We’d like to hear your reaction to the story and this hospital PR challenge in the Northwest.

The “trouble,” it seems—if trouble is the proper description—is that, “Hospitals throughout the Puget Sound region are in the midst of a boom, building spiffy new free-standing emergency rooms and entire hospital towers with expanded ERs, and drastically remodeling existing ones.” (Is “spiffy” an architectural term?)

“Swedish Medical Center and Evergreen Hospital Medical Center built free-standing ERs in Redmond, and MultiCare and Valley Medical Center plan to build them in Covington.” Perhaps the “spiffy” part is about the Virginia Mason Medical Center’s new pavilion in Seattle which, according to the article, “doctors, nurses and other care providers helped design.”

“Virginia Mason’s chief executive, Dr. Gary Kaplan, argues that good design saves money by saving staff time, reducing the chance of errors and allowing a faster, more complete patient workup. ‘This facility is designed to support a waste-free process,’ says Kaplan. Waste in this case means wasted steps, wasted energy, wasted procedures.’ ”

But, there are critics. “The ER building boom has prompted a backlash from some lawmakers and advocates of affordable health care, who complain that nearly all Washington hospitals get substantial tax breaks and construction financing through tax-exempt bonds.” (The article does not say if these are the same lawmakers who created the tax and bond incentives to improve healthcare facilities.)

We’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Is this a hospital public relations concern in your area? And if this report appeared in your community news, how would you respond?

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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