Without a doubt, it’s hard to find anything good about this pandemic. Healthcare workers are dying on the front lines; tens of thousands of Americans will lose their lives; businesses have been forced to close their doors and lay off their employees, and hospitals risk bankruptcy. Yet, there is one silver lining for those of us who work in healthcare: the gift of community.
It seems odd that in a time of social distancing I would be writing about community. But everywhere I look I see communities rallying behind their local hospitals. Regular people in communities across America are sewing face masks for their local healthcare workers. Millions of masks! Small and large businesses are donating PPE to their community hospitals. Others are delivering meals to healthcare workers. The generosity, kindness, and appreciation displayed in these gifts are exactly what you’d hope to see when there is a strong community bond with a local healthcare organization. It is nonetheless remarkable.
What is interesting to me about this outpouring of support for healthcare organizations and healthcare workers is that most Americans are usually disconnected from their healthcare providers. Hospitals, healthcare, and health are not things they want to think about day-in and day-out. Hospitals and healthcare workers are in the background, often taken for granted. As community members, we want our hospitals and providers to be there, but don’t want to think about them; and we certainly don’t want to invest in them. The same can be said of our public health system. For healthcare organizations, engaging members of their community is a difficult task.
For years, I’ve been on a rant that hospitals and health systems need to stop spewing advertising in the direction of consumers and do more to create marketing that builds community. We market our various specialties, promote our national rankings, yet do very little marketing or communication that is truly relevant to our constituents. For the most part, we don’t provide communication that is of value to the communities we serve.
Yet, here we are, in the middle of a fierce pandemic, and our communities are reaching out to show their support and to lend a hand. This renewed connection with our communities is the gift of this pandemic. My advice is to embrace that connection and never let it go. As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, and we will emerge, we need to have strategies in place for leveraging this newfound bond with our communities. While we’re celebrating the amazing work and sacrifices made by our healthcare heroes (all of our employees), we also need to publicly celebrate the contributions made by the community. We need to celebrate the small businesses and individuals who stepped up and made a difference. And we need to find ways to involve these people moving forward.
Think of your community as a blanket. You need to wrap your organization in that blanket of support and appreciation. And you need to cherish that blanket realizing that it is the foundation upon which to build your marketing. You got through this pandemic together – community and hospital. And you will move forward together. As our hospitals work to dig out of the financial crisis brought on or worsened by this pandemic, we will need our communities by our side.