A Tale of Two Health System Public Relations Teams

September 29, 2023

No matter how large or small or rural or urban a health care organization is, there are certain universal truths that apply when it comes to being the guardian of its reputation in the community. But the way public relations and communications teams approach things may vary greatly depending on how they are structured, the strategic priorities of their organizations, and the needs of the community.

// By Jane Weber Brubaker //

Jane Weber BrubakerPublic relations, or PR, is first and foremost about building and maintaining trusted relationships externally, with consumers and patients, providers, the media, and the larger community. We spoke with public relations leaders from two very different health systems about how they forge those connections and raise the profile of their organizations to key audiences. Their work requires a multifaceted approach that has become only more complex over time as the media landscape has evolved.

Sean Couch, executive director, communications & consumer strategy, Northeast Georgia Health System

Sean Couch, executive director, communications & consumer strategy, Northeast Georgia Health System

“Most communications leaders in health care have many responsibilities that go beyond just media relations and trade relations,” says Sean Couch, executive director, communications & consumer strategy at Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS), a five-hospital regional safety net system serving a population of 1 million across 19 counties in Georgia. “Within our health system, all public relations, consumer marketing, provider-to-provider marketing, media relations, crisis communications, and internal communications/corporate communications all report through a consolidated department — and digital health is housed in the same division.”

Communications at Providence, a major health system with 51 hospitals operating in seven states in the western U.S., is its own entity. “Communications is actually split from marketing at Providence,” says Bryan Kawasaki, director, national communications at Providence. “We work together, but they are different departments.” To cover such a large, multistate region, communications is divided into local, divisional, and national teams at Providence.

Here, Couch and Kawasaki share their views as public relations professionals on trust and transparency, media and messaging, and consolidation and competition.

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