Transforming a Healthcare Organization for Changing Times

We had the good fortune to work with Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan from 2008-2009 and then again from 2010-2012. Their story is full of terrific insights to share:

Initially, SAMC was hired to help their CEO, Patrick Wardell, re-invigorate the hospital, top to bottom. Patrick had come on board in 2006 as President and CEO of Hurley, a $360 million, 463-bed teaching hospital providing residency programs in internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and radiology. In this role, he reversed a seven-year cumulative loss of $34 million to a $7 million surplus in just two years. He also launched Hurley Children’s Hospital, constructed a $30 million state-of-the-art emergency trauma center caring for 90,000 patients annually, instituted patient- and family-centered care, and introduced Six Sigma principles to the institution.

Clearly, Patrick was really moving the organization forward. Our (Andrea Simon’s) job was to serve as Interim Senior Vice President of Branding, Marketing and Physician Services, build the brand, tell the story with robust marketing, craft their physician services function, and work with Hurley’s Human Resources team to change the culture. Patrick’s task was a big one (SAMC’s was rather challenging too), in a staid market with two other competitive and well-positioned hospitals.

Together with Hurley’s marketing and management teams, we began to capture the story and move the organization forward, with consistent internal and external marketing and branding, complemented with traditional and new media strategies and tactics. You can read more about the branding work we did, published by Hospital Impact.

Since approximately 1/3 of our clients are in (or related to) the healthcare industry, and our webinar series, “Healthcare Innovation: Trends from the Trenches,” speaks directly to the many changes in this industry sector, we’d like to share these 3 important points for you to consider:

1. Power of Branding for Hospitals. The first is the power of the brand: the one you have now and the one you want to own moving forward. We discovered that consumers had an enormous affection for Hurley—its emergency room saved many lives, its pediatric hospital and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit brought many children into this world and helped them become healthy grown-ups, and its special cardiac and bariatric services, among others, were exemplary.

The problem was articulating the branding story to the audiences that the hospital wanted to attract, beyond the current users. As a safety-net institution, it was there for those who could not pay, as well as those seeking special care. Far too many patients with insurance went elsewhere. Our task: How to move market share, particularly when the competition was so competent and well-entrenched with physicians?

As a result of our discovery work, we uncovered a totally ignored market segment: Men! Hurley recognized that by and large, men did not have primary care doctors, did not go to doctors regularly and did not stay compliant on their drugs. (Nationally, only 66% of men have doctors, compared to 92% of women.) But targeting men and focusing on Men’s Health required some major changes in physician practices, hours of availability and marketing messages. Happily, Hurley stepped up. Their inaugural Men’s Health Summit in June 2012 was an extraordinary result of our and their marketing team’s efforts to reach out and engage men for better health.

2. Power of Physician Liaisons. The second important point is the power of physician services to take the message out to physicians in order to shift patient admitting patterns. This is never easy, but possible, as you provide consistent presence, purpose and value to those doctors. The biggest challenge was getting the right team in place, trained and on the road with measurable purpose.

3. Power of the Right Culture for the Right Times. The third point to consider is the importance of company culture and internal branding. SAMC and Hurley’s Human Resource director brought in Kim Cameron from the University of Michigan to work with Hurley on its culture change process. Of its 2500 employees, almost 65% of them took the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI). The results were extremely consistent across all areas of the hospital, even the Board. The hospital knew it was very top-down and hierarchical. They wanted to change, but didn’t know “to what.” The OCAI results created a combined desire to be more innovative, empowered and collaborative, with better teamwork leading to better results.

Though challenging to implement, Hurley’s change process was begun, teams were created and new ideas emerged. They began the journey. Patrick left in 2012 to become the CEO and President of Cambridge Health Services; subsequent reorganization by Hurley’s new president was on its way, and our job was done as well.