How a Four-Word Imperative Sentence Reversed a Hospital’s Sliding Fortunes

July 17, 2020

// By Peter Hochstein //

Peter HochsteinThe situation seemed dire at Vassar Brothers Medical Center. Doctors at a large medical group were under orders to refer patients to a different hospital. Then Vassar launched an ad campaign that empowered patients to defy their doctors. And everything changed.

The news arrived more than a little jarringly at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, a 365-bed, not-for-profit hospital in the Central Hudson Valley. (Vassar Brothers is now part of the Nuvance Health system.)

If situational stress has you feeling a bit frazzled, all the more reason to spend a few minutes with this remarkable case history. It may give you a refreshing sense of the power you have when you’ve got a great advertising campaign to support you. — PH

The management of a very large, local medical group had just instructed its doctors to refer all their patients to a hospital in White Plains, a city roughly 60 miles away, and a drive — when the highways aren’t crowded — of more than an hour and 10 minutes. The trip can be considerably longer than that for patients who live to the north of Poughkeepsie, or on the opposite bank of the Hudson River.

Grim Projection: 40 Percent Decline

Alaina Paciulli, director of integrated media, Seiden Advertising

Alaina Paciulli, director of integrated media, Seiden Advertising

According to Alaina Paciulli, director of integrated media at Seiden Advertising, the New York City advertising agency that Vassar Brothers works with, projections were grim. With White Plains draining away patients, Paciulli says, “We thought there would be a 40 percent decline in business.”

What can advertising do about a situation like this? A hospital can’t cancel a mandate it’s not a party to. And patients generally are loath to override their doctors’ recommendations.

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