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Hospital PR rolls with managed care changes

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by Ann Bucy

SBJ Contributing Writer

It all began about 20 years ago. The birth of hospital public relations, that is.

"At different times in the past, different aspects of communications have played a larger role than others" for hospitals, said Barbara Long, director of media relations for the Missouri Hospital Association. "Sometimes more emphasis has been placed on advertising and marketing; at others, health screening and community outreach."

She said that in the current health care market, internal communications are becoming more important "as managed care has driven hospitals to become more cost-effective and, in many instances, join networks with other hospitals or merge."

Laurie Glenn is director of public relations for Cox Health Systems. When she began work for Cox in August of 1989, she was a part of what was considered "basic" public relations writing up a staff newsletter and staying in contact with local media, among other things.

Then came a nursing shortage.

"We embarked on our first TV campaign," Glenn said. "It was a ground-breaking decision."

She now oversees a staff of nine and says the department has become more specialized. "Part of the reason for that is because of our competition, and also because of the hospital's growth. We've become a huge, integrated system of health care."

Glenn said she feels hospital public relations serves a definite purpose. "Without it, internal communications would suffer terribly, and there would be no avenue for a relationship with the media."

The hospital's web site is one way she communicates with the public. The site includes information on Cox physicians and current job listings. It can be found at www.coxnet.org.

Mike Peters is director of community relations at St. John's Health System. He oversees a staff of 10 that produces educational videos, slides for staff education, oversees patient education and special events, and develops "Healthy People," a magazine for the Springfield area.

"We've grown so in the last few years," Peters said. "We now have clinics in more than 40 communities outside Springfield."

Peters and his staff communicate with those clinic employees and others through "In Touch," a biweekly newsletter.

As a public relations representative for Columbia Hospitals and the Ozarks Physician Group, Judy Wingate is involved in promoting health care locally. Columbia's staff of four has adopted three elementary schools and a high school, where they take food to needy families.

"It's becoming a reality that hospitals are going to be more community-related," Wingate said. "Hospitals will be forced to take a lead in helping encourage a healthier community," one of the goals of managed care.

PHOTO CAPTION:

The community relations staff at St. John's handles everything from staff and patient education to producing St. John's Healthy People magazine. Pictured above are (front row) Kathy Bench, Dan Caringer, Mike Peters, Glenda Hall, Anita Davis, (back row) Ursula Gonzales, Cora Scott, Rick List, Michele Carley and Patti Lemons. (photo provided to SBJ)[[In-content Ad]]

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