Community Outreach—Part of a Hospital’s Service Mission
By Mark Kimball, CEO, St. Mark’s Medical Center, La Grange, Texas
The holidays are a good time to reinforce that community hospitals are in the service industry, and community outreach is part of our service mission. By getting involved in the community, the CEO sets an example for other members of the hospital team to reach out to the community to form mutually beneficial ties.
As the new CEO of St. Mark’s Medical Center, I will share initiatives we use here to take service beyond the hospital walls. Additionally, I will include some best practices gleaned from my 20-plus years as a rural healthcare executive. Community involvement and giving back are especially important for hospitals serving tightknit, rural communities.
Outreach Builds Awareness
A community hospital exists to provide the region with more access to quality care, closer to home. People who leave the community for healthcare are inconvenienced at the very least, and the local economy suffers. One objective of outreach is to build community awareness of services and support so people seek care locally. Involvement with civic organizations provides a means of disseminating hospital news and keeping the hospital top of mind. For example, when St. Mark’s Medical Center began offering wound care services, the center’s director and provider gave a presentation at the Rotary Club. This gave the public an opportunity to learn about the services and ask questions. Most interactions through civic organizations are less formal, however. Involvement in the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Kiwanis International and other groups gives the CEO and hospital employees an opportunity to provide hospital updates and to make a positive impression of the hospital. Involvement in schools, churches, sports and community events provides the same opportunity, to the extent existing COVID-19 restrictions allow. I also attend city and county meetings on a regular basis and update government officials.
Sometimes an enthusiastic presence is all it takes. Pre-pandemic, a committee representing St. Mark’s takes part in the annual trick or treat event on the town square as well as in a wassail making contest and other “just for fun” occasions that provide relationship building opportunities.
Outreach Promotes Education
Education is another objective of community outreach. Educational programs might include Dine with the Doc or Lunch and Learn events designed for either the community at large or area employers. For instance, a family practice physician might visit a local employer during lunch to talk about diabetes management or relevant health topics.
More formally, the hospital could form a business and industry council that meets with plant managers, human resources officers and executives to learn about their industry’s healthcare needs and how the hospital can serve them.
St. Mark’s has provided guest lectures on healthcare-related topics for area schools as well as for the local Medical Explorer club—a group of students interested in medical careers.
I encourage hospitals to leverage local media including the newspaper and radio stations as well as social media to raise awareness of the hospital and educate the public.
Outreach Fosters Relationships
A third objective of community outreach is forming mutually beneficial partnerships. For example, a community hospital could collaborate with another healthcare facility to organize a health fair and provide free screenings.
St. Mark’s clinical affiliation with St. David’s HealthCare in Austin allows us access to specialists and easy access to transfer our patients to a higher level of care. St. David’s also helps us with education including various life support and resuscitation classes and certifications.
Another example is forming affiliations with area colleges so students studying healthcare professions complete training for credit at St. Mark’s. The students benefit through hands-on learning while, for St. Mark’s, they become a potential pipeline of talent from which to recruit.
St. Marks has also attended Career Day at the local high school, which resulted in many students requesting to “shadow” various disciplines.
Outreach Nurtures Goodwill
A fourth objective of community outreach is simply to give back to the community. If you support the community, the community will support you. St. Mark’s gives back in numerous ways throughout the year, including food and gift drives during the holidays, collections for the local animal shelter, back-to-school backpack drives and other charitable events.
As a rural hospital CEO, being generous with my time goes a long way toward building a relationship for caring, involvement and accessibility that reflects well on the hospital. My business card that I give to anyone and everyone includes both my office and cell numbers. It is important to get our message out, but it’s just as important to hear what people have to say.
Mark Kimball, CEO
St. Mark’s Medical Center
La Grange, Texas