Sunday, October 6, 2013

The People Person Profession

The Chicago Bears mascot, Staley da bear and I on my first
day interning at Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago.
Kate Schroeder

This past summer, I received some hands on Public Relations experience at Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago. Shriners Hospital for Children is a network of 22 non-profit hospitals serving children with orthopedic conditions, burns, and cleft lip and palate. I was one of two people working in the Public Relations department this summer, so I communicated daily with hospital staff, as well as patients and their families. There was level of trust and unity between the Public Relations department and the hospital I had never experienced before as a budding PR professional. I had full access to patients, families and medical professionals in order to share their stories in order to promote Shriners to a larger audience.

However with all of that freedom came immense responsibility. I was scared out of my pants writing my first press release. This was due because of the delicate nature of writing on behalf of a hospital with strict guidelines for privacy and accuracy, such as the Health Information Privacy Act (HIPA) . This was especially true because of the hospitals non-profit status. Everything I wrote was a reflection of the hospital, and if I reflected it poorly, it could mean one less child could receive care.

When reading “PR Ethics and Reputation” and “Follow the Leader: Ethics and Responsibility” for class, it really got me thinking how vital a professional and ethical Public Relations department is to maintaining a healthy company, especially when it comes to non-profit PR. After making this connection through these articles, I did not have to stretch my imagination to picture myself in a real life case study of ethics. Imagine if I had used false information for an article for our hospital magazine about a new treatment for children with cerebral palsy (CP). Not only would the hospitals loose credibility and funding, but it could cause harm to the patients and families of patients with CP.

Actually, part of my job this summer was to communicate an internal decision made by the board of directors. Due to the poor economy, Shriners Hospitals for Children started accepting insurance, but still gave care regardless of the patients' ability to pay. Some of our audience was ill-informed about the policy change and still promoted Shriners' care as free for everyone who applied. Like discussed in the “Follow the Leader: Ethics and Responsibility," my job was to “communicate the message and explain the culture – both internally and externally.”

This meant that it was my job to promote and explain to our audience of the policy change. Before the message of free care for all patients was an easy way to promote the hospital. It would seem like the easy way out to just not inform our audience of the change and wait for them to find out once they visited the hospital. Patients come to Shriners from all over the country. However, if the care is not free for insurance holders, then it becomes expensive to justify traveling from Indiana to Chicago to receive treatment frequently.

However, we could not have patients and their families be unaware of this change. The Public Relations department was in charge of facilitating the communication of this message. When I came on board one of my jobs was to research online to find blogs and websites that mentioned the hospital. From there, I made a list of these sites and mentioned which ones did not have or were unaware of the updated policy. Without this dedication of the organization spreading a truthful and accurate message, the credibility of the hospital as a whole would be tarnished. Public relations people may sometimes have a bad reputation for always trying to make their company look good at the cost of truthfulness and minimizing harm. However, they are the ones behind the scenes working hard serving the public interest as an independent voice of an organization.

No comments:

Post a Comment