Low-cost ideas boost your community image

With many outpatient surgery programs having few, if any, funds available for public relations, there is a strong need for free or low-cost ways to improve your community image. Many programs are finding out that by giving back to their community, they also can reach potential patients and improve staff morale in the process.

Here is a sampling of ideas gathered from outpatient surgery providers:

  • Bicycle and skate helmet and safety program.

For the past few years, a Ride Cool bike and skate helmet and safety program has been sponsored by Northeast Missouri Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC) in Hannibal and other health care providers. The surgery center and providers set up several booths on a Saturday, and young people have their bicycle washed, receive safety inspections, and receive water bottles and first aid kits. Also, the ASC distributes helmets that it purchases at a discount rate from Bell Sports in Rantoul, IL, with money from a local philanthropic organization.

"We’ll handle 600 helmets on a particular Saturday," notes Brian Shelton, MBA, CAFC, regional operations manager at Health Inventures, a development management company for surgery and diagnostic imaging centers, including Northeast Missouri ASC, based in Broomfield, CO.

The program includes fit checks for helmets. It is advertised through local newspaper and radio announcements and fliers at Northeast Missouri ASC and the local hospital.

The advantage to the center is the safety awareness being created in the community with children and parents, Shelton says. "It demonstrates community involvement," he says. "We give back. It gives the message: We don’t just operate on you; we’re more than that.’"

  • Business expo.

Staff members from Northeast Missouri man a booth at the community’s annual business expo. "At that booth, we give out literature about the surgery center and health and wellness information," Shelton says. Specifically, the center partners with the American Cancer Society to distribute literature about colorectal cancer and to provide a free at-home test kit. Over a three-year period, the center has seen about 15 positive results to the cancer screening, Shelton says.

  • Fire Department Kids Education Program.

Northeast Missouri ASC contributes financially to the local fire department so the firefighters can distribute safety literature to the community. The literature includes an explanation of how to safely exit a building that is on fire. The center distributes this information to pediatric patients, Shelton says.

  • Local advertising through high schools and clubs.

Mentor (OH) Surgery Center advertises in its local high school sports programs. "For $25 to $50, you put an ad in a program that they pass out to everyone at athletic events," says David Weir, CASC, administrator at Mentor Surgery Center. "It’s a minimal advertising expense compared to newsprint, and a lot of people see your name."

Also, because one staff person and several staff spouses belong to a local branch of The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the USA, the center advertises in the program for the group’s annual awards ceremony. "It gives a sense of community outside of work, as well as at work," Weir adds.

  • Gifts to local people who are ill.

Mentor employees provided two wagons full of gifts at Easter for two terminally ill children through the local branch of the Phoenix-based Make-a-Wish Foundation of America. Staff members were given the names and ages of the children and contributed gifts, gift certificates, wagons, and balloons. (For information on participating in the Make-a-Wish Foundation, see resources, below.)

  • Membership in local civic organizations.

Several members of Health Inventures’ surgery centers are members of local civic organizations, including the chamber of commerce. The centers typically pay their membership fees.

Indirectly, it’s a promotion of the surgery center, but it’s not advertising, Shelton says. It shows the center’s staff members are good community citizens, he says. "We’re giving back as much as patients and the community give to us," Shelton explains. "They support us, so we try to support the community they’re living in through these activities."

If you’re looking at boosting your community involvement, first plan a budget, sources say.

"The more you get involved, the more requests you get," Shelton says. Often, financial commitments are involved. "If you’re not careful, it could lead to many, many requests for other contributions, which could become unmanageable," he adds.

Time commitments also are an issue, he says. "We have 35 employees," Shelton says. "There’s only so much they can do in their off time."

Salina (KS) Surgical Hospital formed a committee to find out which staff members were interested in which community projects, Weir says of his sister facility.

Keep in mind administrators and staff might not be interested in the same types of projects, sources say.

Staff at Salina Surgical Hospital established a budget and pooled ideas and contacts to start the service projects rolling, Weir says. "You can start small and see how it goes."

Also, focus on a handful of key organizations or initiatives that fit well with your center’s mission. For instance, a cancer awareness campaign made sense for Northeast Missouri because many patients come for cancer procedures, Shelton says. "If they see us support it, it lends to our credibility and respect in the community," he says.

Sources/Resource

For more information on boosting your image in the community, contact:

  • Brian Shelton, MBA, CAFC, Regional Operations Manager, Health Inventures, Hannibal, MO. Phone: (573) 406-1450. E-mail: Bshelton@healthinventures.com.
  • David Weir, CASC, Administrator, Mentor Surgery Center, 9485 Mentor Ave., Suite One, Mentor, OH 44060. Phone: (440) 205-5725. E-mail: dweir@healthinventures.com.
  • For information on participating in the Make-a-Wish Foundation of America, call (866) 880-1382, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain Time. Web: www.wish.org.