During COVID-19, people are looking for trusted messengers and they’re turning to their health systems, hospitals, clinics and providers as never before. Herculean efforts are being made by health care marketing departments (many of them two to three people strong) to work with local partners and public health organizations in the creation of unified messaging for the communities they serve.

We were fortunate enough to be able to grab a little time with two hospital leaders to discuss how they’re re-imagining the role of their organizations during this pandemic and how they’re helping their communities thrive forward.

Watch our Campfire Session, Leading Your Community Forward. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 08/21/20, Marsha, Stephen and I were joined by:

  • Rebecca Lamberty, Chief Administrative Officer at Winona Health in Winona, Minnesota
  • Miranda TerBeest, Director of Marketing and Community Relations at Black River Memorial Hospital in Black River Falls, Wisconsin

The discussion included:

  • a look at Rebecca and Miranda’s roles in their organizations during the pandemic
  • the communication tactics and strategies they have used to reach and engage audiences and stakeholders
  • the role of the community hospital moving forward
  • how to manage adding COVID messaging to the other marketing work that hasn’t disappeared at this time

What is the pandemic like in rural communities right now?

As national numbers have climbed, the number of coronavirus cases in rural communities has ebbed and flowed—typically remaining much lower than in the rest of the country. Both Rebecca and Miranda addressed the challenge of creating messaging that balances what their communities hear through national news outlets with information that is more pertinent to their local communities.

They discussed the need to break through the barrage of information “out there” about COVID and keep their communities informed, while being sensitive not to create COVID fatigue. 

Rebecca explained that as schools and colleges begin to open in the Winona area, Winona Health will be keeping an eye on the current state of the virus—expecting there could be a change in numbers and the need to communicate more frequently.

Tactics and strategies that engage—externally

Social media was a tactic that both Rebecca and Miranda leaned into from the very beginning of the crisis, and continue to use today:

Rebecca told us:

“We found a tremendous uptick in our following on our social media during the course of COVID, which was great to see. Our content was simple, easy to read and included a direct link to highly reliable information from the Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC. Our website became a primary source of information, too. 

Added tactics Rebecca and Miranda shared with us included:

  • creating a nurse hotline to answer specific COVID questions
  • producing CEO videos and fireside chats addressing local COVID issues
  • working closely with the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders on messaging
  • creating “reopening safely” materials/packets for local businesses and schools to use
  • using traditional media like print and radio to round out messaging 
See what's working

Tactics and strategies that engage—internally

Because Winona Health and Black River Memorial Hospital are both large employers in their communities, internal communications about the virus were equally as important as external communications.

Miranda told us:

“We knew that the way that we communicated with our employees internally was really going to have a direct reflection on what they brought back to the community, to their families and to their social circles.” 

Tactics Miranda and Rebecca shared included:

  • tracking all communications to stakeholders—colleagues, board members, community leaders and community members
  • using incident command and their public information officer to make sure messages were united
  • encouraging service line managers and directors to direct questions from staff to one central internal website page

The role of the community hospital moving forward

Both Rebecca and Miranda shared that their hospitals really found themselves top of mind during the first six to eight weeks of the crisis. 

Rebecca shared:

“I think really recognizing that we are the community leader for this type of information and stepping into that space a little bit more proudly as opposed to just being the humble health care provider in the background—I think that is part of our future.”

Miranda said:

“We did all of this because it was the right thing to do. But as a side effect, it’s really given us the opportunity to develop our stature in the community and really develop trust within our brand and with our stakeholders. And, so really trying to continue to build on that moving forward then by being a bigger voice as it relates to education and continuing to build those strong partnerships as we always have.”

Juggling COVID and this year’s strategic plan

Not much sleep has been had by health care leaders these past few months. The communication needs that come along with COVID have had to be weighed with the strategic plans made at the beginning of the year.

Rebecca said:

“You cannot do it all, so we were forced—like everyone else—to get really focused on high value work. To simply not do things that we would have done before because they weren’t as important today. So, I think it is a matter of a lot of diligence and allowing certain balls to drop and just saying we’re not working on that now.”


The key takeaways for this session can all be summed up in additional words of wisdom from Rebecca:

“We have to be change-ready. We have to be hyper-focused on priorities that align with our mission. So I think in times like this it is always wise to go back to your mission.

  • take a look at what you had prioritized before
  • narrow it down
  • look at it through a lens that makes sense today
  • proceed with what you can manage in an organized way.”

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

Make sure to sign up below to receive invitations to future Campfire Sessions and links to past Campfire Session recaps.

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