Rebecca Smith began her new job at LMH Health Foundation on January 1, 2021—just as the COVID pandemic hit. As the Vice President of Strategic Communications, she faced not only a new workplace and new responsibilities, but also the challenge of communicating with the public during an extraordinary time.
At LMH, the COVID response involved four components that needed to work together seamlessly. Incident Command was the hub where operations, logistics, planning and administration/financial work took place. The individuals assigned to this group were on deck 12 hours a day, every day. The stress had personal implications as well as professional ones for everyone as their work impacted patients and the community.
Work was framed with the aim to provide care to anyone who needed it. Smith found that the Guiding Values of LMH were foundational to the work at hand: People First. Better Together. Speak Up. Innovation. In Joy.
Because the goal was to inspire confidence in LMH care, Smith knew that communication needed to be patient focused, credible, transparent, and trustworthy. She worked hard to balance information about COVID against the panic that such information could create. She found that balance by sharing both the good and the bad news.
The concept of Better Together emphasized collaboration within work groups and within the larger community of Lawrence and of Douglas County. LMH built partnerships with the Douglas County Unified Command and throughout the city, and the community responded. Restaurants gave food. Douglas County United Way managed volunteers. The Senior Resource Center provided transportation and meals. The Lawrence Public Library was an information hub. Up to 175 people helped each day with the vaccination effort. Over 2000 volunteers did various tasks, and Smith soon had 8,000 addresses on her email distribution list. She took care to provide frequent and readable messages. And although it took extra effort, she maintained two-way interactions with those who had questions.
While Douglas County Kansas vaccinations were coordinated and delivered at Douglas County Fairgrounds, LMH vaccines were delivered via drive-in clinics at the hospital. LMH took care to schedule appointments only after receiving delivery of vaccine, typically planning appointments within 24-48 hours afterward. By giving doses from vaccine that had arrived the prior week, they did not need to cancel clinics. As of the end of March 2021, LMH had provided 40,000 doses of vaccine.
During the period from March 2020 to March 2021, 439 COVID inpatients were cared for at LMH. They are proud to declare that there was zero transmission of the disease within clinics and hospital itself.
LMH has met the challenge well, but Smith cautions that continued vigilance is key. We aren’t done with the epidemic yet!