Spectrum Health’s Story of COVID-19 Preparedness

By The SHSMD Team posted 04-21-2020 11:49

hospital clinical staff
Holly Sullivan, senior director of marketing at Spectrum Health and SHSMD’s board president, took the time to describe how the System Marketing & Communication team responded to COVID-19.  Spectrum Health, a health system with 14 hospitals across West Michigan, was not as immediately challenged by a surge of patients with COVID-19 as the larger metropolitan areas were, but it still lost no time in preparing. 

This team has many responsibilities as it relates to communicating critically important information internally and externally, more specifically:

  • Creating PSA messages distributed throughout all channels to communicate critical information/updates and helpful guidance to the public.
  • Helping support and communicate new ways of addressing current care needs (expanded virtual platform, free COVID screening).
  • Managing an intranet for their internal audiences.• Participating as a member of the command center 24/7 as the Public Information Officer.
  • Preparing a mid-day video update for the organization and producing an end-of-day report with important information for the next day.
  • Managing all media requests/media relations related to Spectrum Health’s readiness and preparations.
  • Telling impactful stories guided by taking a daily pulse of the mood and information needs of our communities.
  • Supporting hospital leadership in reaching out to/sharing information with business and community partners.
  • Coordinating a thank-you effort to front line workers that invites the community to participate through an online gratitude forum.

Communicating with the Community About Their Care Needs 

Spectrum Health’s first two priorities that needed to be communicated externally included:

  1. How do I get screened and/or tested (what do I do if I have COVID?) 
  2. Given the actions that were taken to help build capacity to handle a surge, how do I still get the everyday care I need?
Sullivan said, “There is a lot of tension and anxiety…there’s a lot of fact out there and there’s a lot of fiction out there…people are searching for a source of truth, so we’ve been really focusing on getting out information out and providing that source of truth.” They made sure to communicate with the “worried well” to provide important information that eased their concerns as much as possible, as well as communicating with people who had potential COVID-19 symptoms or those who had health needs other than COVID-19 that still need to be seen regularly, such as people with diabetes and pregnant women.

Sullivan shared that the community has been extremely responsive. “I have just been blown away by the community response to our efforts. One organization in the community retooled their manufacturing plan to make hand sanitizer for us and many more businesses coming alongside asking ‘How can I help? What can we do?’ Community members are also showing moral support for the workers at Spectrum Health, putting up signs on a street leading to the hospital thanking the health care staff.”

Rising to the Occasion and Erasing Boundaries of Business

Spectrum Health moved to a seven-day work week, splitting the team up so that there are always marketing staff at work to support communication needs.  Each day a morning call establishes the priorities for the day and the day ends with an evening call with leadership to ensure that everybody knows the status of the different initiatives and the priorities. Sullivan pointed out that the crisis “has really helped us integrate across [traditional roles] with people helping out where they can despite their job description and typical role.  I see people working together, working across and making it happen every day…getting things done in hours that would have maybe taken weeks. So that’s a positive.”

To keep on top of public information needs, the marketing team works closely with the clinical and front line staff so that they can see for themselves what concerns and questions consumers have. The marketing team is also performing social listening, monitoring social media to take the daily pulse of the mood and information needs of the community. The team uses it to shape content that is most timely and relevant, whether it’s facts and data, guidance and instruction or stories of hope and inspiration. 

Spectrum Health closed many of its primary care offices in order to consolidate resources where they were most needed. They built a much more robust virtual health platform, adding 1,000 primary care and specialty providers in three weeks. The marketing team is communicating that to the public and creating resources and step by step instructional videos to help people who have never used virtual care before. Daily virtual health volumes have gone from less than 100 a day to more than 1,200 a day in this short time span. They’re also making sure to communicate with patients who have health issues other than COVID-19, to make sure that they seek the care they need and that they feel safe to come into the hospital facility if the need arises.

Targeted Messaging for Specific Populations

The marketing team works to bring targeted information directly from the specialist physicians to people with ongoing health care needs to help provide specific instructions on how to seek care and to alleviate their fears. For instance, women who are pregnant are concerned about safe access to maternity care and Spectrum Health developed special messaging to address their concerns. They hosted a Facebook Live with specialists to answer questions such as:

  • How do I get the care I need?
  • If I need to go to the hospital, what’s that going to be like?
  • What does COVID-19 mean to me as a woman who’s pregnant?
  • Will I be separated from patients with COVID when I go to the hospital?

Supporting Morale

To help support morale, Sullivan said that the team starts off their day with a grateful moment and that the culture emphasizes recognizing, thanking and supporting staff. The team is united in a vital mission and that creates cohesiveness and a collaborative and compassionate environment where people are eager to help each other, which is another source for encouragement. The community response and support is also tremendously helpful for the staff.  Overall, there is a shared mindset that we are in this together (#inthistogether), which inspires and brings a hopeful spirit to the entire team.

For more information

You can listen to the entire podcast here and see the supplemental materials here. For more on how health care strategists are responding to COVID-19, please visit SHSMD’s COVID-19 Conversation Series.

SHSMD has additional resources on hospital and health system communications, marketing, planning and business development during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check back regularly as we are always adding new resources.

For additional information, please visit the American Hospital Association’s COVID-19 resources.