How do hospitals communicate safety policies amid changing guidance? 7 execs weigh in

Now that the U.S. economy has largely "opened up" and Americans' day-to-day lives are getting closer to normal, it can be tricky for hospitals to communicate their masking policies and safety protocols to visitors.

Below, seven hospital marketing executives share how they are communicating safety protocols amid a reopened economy.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Michael Parkerson. Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Chief Managed Care Officer at Atrium Health (Charlotte, N.C.). Even though we are in a different phase of the pandemic, the science hasn’t changed. Face masks remain an effective tool in helping to limit the spread of COVID and other respiratory viruses, as evidenced by the positive impacts of Atrium Health providing more than 3 million free face masks across the region.   

Atrium Health has strengthened its bonds of trust with its patients through its commitment to maintaining a COVID-safe environment. Even though many people in the communities we serve have chosen to forego masks in their day-to-day walk of life, we emphasize the importance of wearing them inside our facilities and require them in all common areas. We don’t know the entire health picture of everyone who walks through our doors, so this remains an important requirement, especially with delta and other variants becoming more prominent. 

With so much still unknown about COVID-19 and what’s coming next, we see this requirement as a prudent step in protecting those who may be immunocompromised, unvaccinated or at high-risk for infection. In the meantime, we must continue to invest into the science needed to combat the virus, educate the population on the safety and importance of getting their vaccinations and, ultimately, attain true herd immunity to protect the community as a whole.

Suzanne Bharati Hendery. Chief Marketing and Customer Officer at Renown Health (Reno, Nev.). At Renown Health, we are welcoming people to come back to our hospitals and medical practices for the care they need. Our pandemic safety communications have always followed in line with our governor’s office and the CDC. 

On July 1, we lifted additional temporary restrictions, including now encouraging two patient supporters to see their hospitalized loved one at a time, and public areas are now open for dining. Face masks are still required in all Renown patient care areas, areas that support patient care, and are worn by those employees who interact directly with patients.

Kelly Jo Golson. Chief Brand and Consumer Experience Officer at Advocate Aurora Health (Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.). As the COVID-19 environment evolves, our commitment to the health and safety of our patients, our communities and our team members remains absolute. Accordingly, we’re continuing the Advocate Aurora Safe Care Promise introduced during the height of COVID-19 and broadening it to reflect our changing landscape.

Today, the initial elements of our Safe Care Promise remain. These include: masking at all of our facilities in keeping with CDC guidelines, enhanced clearing in high-touch areas, virtual check-ins, and appropriate screening and social distancing measures.

We’re proactively communicating our Safe Care Promise in advance of appointments, and educating the broader community through signage, social media, digital advertising and other communication channels to ensure all feel comfortable and do not delay needed care. By ensuring safety, we’re establishing the trust and peace of mind that people need to live well.

More broadly, the Safe Care Promise reflects Advocate Aurora Health’s longstanding commitment to being, first and foremost, a safe clinical enterprise. For years, we have been on a journey to become a high-reliability organization by building a disciplined culture of safety. 

This culture focuses on transparency, teamwork and evidence-based protocols. As a result, we have seen increases in, for example, compliance with handwashing at our sites, as well as a larger cultural shift toward regular, honest discussion of "near misses" that spurs continual improvement. This high-reliability culture not only enables our delivery of the Safe Care Promise, but has created high-performing, resilient and empowered teams that deliver exceptional patient care day in and day out.

William “Skip” Hidlay. Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (Columbus). This continues to be a very important aspect of our communications — not only to ensure patient, employee and visitor safety, but also to maintain a high level of patient and visitor satisfaction. We are lucky to have established strong relationships with the other major hospital systems in Columbus to create similar, if not identical, policies for visitors and patients during the pandemic. Much of this was done to alleviate the potential for confusion and frustration. 

We recognize the power of media in reaching our community, so these policies were well communicated through our local outlets directly to patients and visitors using multiple owned communications channels. Even as our region has emerged, the work with the other hospital systems continues so that we can inform the public about changes to policies.

At the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, we’re continuing our multilayered method to inform patients and visitors about ongoing safety protocols. Current information is featured prominently on our website, in email newsletters and our MyHealth app. Patients receive the same message in their appointment instructions by phone, by mail and on MyChart. 

Signs about masking are at every clinical entrance and throughout our health care facilities. We regularly post reminders on our social media channels, and our medical experts continuously reinforce the importance of taking necessary precautions in a healthcare setting in media interviews, blogs and live social media events.

Lori Howley. Executive Director of Corporate Communications and Chief Marketing Officer at MelroseWakefield Healthcare (Medford, Mass.). In our state, hospitals/healthcare providers are required to continue to follow COVID-related precautions of wearing masks and social distancing by patients, visitors and staff. As healthcare providers, we support initiatives that ensure the highest level of safety for our patients, communities and staff. It has created confusion, however, as other areas of life and places of gatherings have eased restrictions.

Our communications have been consistent and frequent throughout the pandemic as to the need and rationale for following the important safety precautions of wearing masks, social distancing and now getting vaccinated. COVID-19 is still with us and the community needs to know that they are safe with us. Providing our teams with information and talking points, including providing education at points of entry by our screeners, and using social media and other digital platforms as well as local outside media to share the message of safety has been the approach. 

With reports of the growing spread of the delta variant, messages of safety and precaution have greater context. And for our staff, we emphasize the importance of setting the example within our organization. However, as with all communications, there is no one simple tactic or message – it’s reach and frequency.

Gulden Mesara. Senior Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at City of Hope (Duarte, Calif.). As a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center with many patients who have compromised immune systems, our patients’ and employees’ safety is our top priority. All patients, visitors and staff entering clinical and non-clinical areas continue to be required to wear masks at all times, and everyone is still screened prior to admittance.

City of Hope continuously keeps patients and employees apprised of our COVID-19 safety precautions in many ways, including via a website translated into multiple languages, regular patient emails and text messages, internal communications to  our employees, enterprise-wide virtual townhall meetings, and signage on our main campus in Duarte, Calif., and in our network of clinical locations.

Heather Gowin. Vice President of External Affairs and Communications at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (Boca Raton, Fla.). CTCA continues to closely monitor local, national, and worldwide incidence of COVID-19. Decisions on masking policies and all other safety protocols are guided by safety, science, CDC and state-specific Department of Public Health guidelines.

We are committed to the safety of our patients, many of whom are immunocompromised. We continue to follow universal masking for all employees, patients, caregivers and visitors within our facilities. We also continue to limit points of entry and require screening at entrances.

In addition to policy signage displayed for employees, patients and visitors, CTCA has representatives present at our hospitals’ main entrances to answer questions and provide a reminder about policies if necessary.


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