Winning the Hearts and Minds of Healthcare Heroes

On Friday, March 12, as part of the 2021 SXSW, I had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion entitled, “Winning the Hearts and Minds of Healthcare Heroes.” The purpose of the session was to look at the best ways communicators in the healthcare industry could reach their frontline workers.

The panel was comprised of a wide cross-section of industry professionals from around the country, including;

  • Kaela Aki, Internal Communications Manager, Hawai’i Pacific Health
  • Mariah Dula, Senior Communications Specialist, Oregon Health & Science University
  • Michelle Grant, Program Manager, Sutter Health
  • Kelsey Huwaldt, MBA, Senior Manager, Internal Communications, Oregon Health & Science University

Winning the Hearts and Minds of Healthcare HeroesDuring the conversation, Michelle Grant noted that it was important for communicators to remain objective and professional writing about frontline workers.

“I just don’t know what it feels like to be in their shoes,” she said. “And I think that’s a really good place for communicators to be, honestly. Just reminding ourselves that we’re not in their shoes kind of helps us through this journey to stay grounded and humble so that .. it’s easier for us to ask the important questions, like, ‘Are our colleagues getting the support they need?’’

Looking back to the beginning of the pandemic, Kelsey Huwaldt remarked how hard it was at the outset to adjust to a communication system in which information wasn’t always readily available.

“We had to be a lot more nimble, especially in the very beginning of the pandemic when things were changing so quickly,” she said. “We, as an academic medical center, we didn’t embrace, not knowing the  answer very easily, even though that’s absolutely what we had to do.”

As the world adjusted, Kelsey said she and her team at Oregon Health & Science University leaned into not knowing all the answers and shifted the focus towards more personal communications from the leadership, creating a personal touchpoint that could provide both insight and peace of mind.

“That was a huge shift for us,’ said Kelsey. “Our chief research officer now emails out twice a week, we do daily emails from our chief of staff, but they’re all very personal and in their voices. So it’s much more of a conversation.”

Panel: Winning the Hearts and Minds of Healthcare HeroesIn addition, Mariah Dulah at Oregon Health & Science University stressed the value of remaining connected at a time when circumstances have forced coworkers to disconnect. The initiatives they have taken on include a wellness task force that has created an entire campaign centered around wellness, a meditation app, information about child care, and a “Wellness Wednesday” post that gathers all of this information together.

At Hawai’i Pacific Health, Kaela Aki said that a lot of the focus has been on morale and the highlighting of inspiring moments. The team has been sharing news of patients being discharged, letters from grateful communities, and stories of vaccines being delivered.

“We are in such a great and unique position to see firsthand some of the best moments that have come out of this pandemic,”  Kaela said, “and really capitalize on our platforms to share them with our staff and inspire them and bring hope and  build resilience.”

Although hope is on the horizon, everyone on the panel agreed that we are not out of the woods yet. There is going to be some navigating unknown waters and some thinking outside the box.

“But,” said Michelle, “as communicators, as long as we can continue to position ourselves in a way where we can come to our work and simply ask, ‘Are our colleagues getting the information they need? Are they getting the support they need? Are we doing what we can to provide compassionate care to them as they’re providing care to our patients?’, we’re going to do great.”

Watch this session on-demand and explore other great panels from W2O’s “Celebrating Health Innovation at SXSW Online 2021” event.

Post Author

Becky Graebe

As Senior Director, Communication Expert at Dynamic Signal, I work with a great team of people to connect, align and engage employees in modern and meaningful ways, wherever they are and in the manner they choose.