When Chicago's Swedish Covenant Hospital first developed healthful cooking demonstrations, chefs from Whole Foods Market presented while dietitians led the shows in the hospital auditorium. The demos were a hit with seniors, but the community relations team soon realized it was limiting outreach by holding the events on-site.
"We wanted to reach a broader subset of the community," says Jenise Celestin, the hospital's community relations manager. "People in their 30s or 40s might not want to come to a hospital on a Saturday morning, but they will visit local businesses." So Swedish transitioned to demos at two nearby Whole Foods locations. Dietitians plan the menu and food costs are covered by Whole Foods. Promotional expenses are shared and minimized with the use of email and social media.
More importantly, the market demos deliver actionable data and high-touch results. Preregistration at the hospital website helps the community outreach team cross-reference registrants with the hospital database to measure utilization. Plus, "when we're out in the community, the interactions are more qualitative and people walk away feeling a closer interaction with the hospital," says Celestin.
Similarly, Chicago's Weiss Memorial Hospital uses a weekly farmers' market in its parking lot and a rooftop farm to forge deeper roots in the community. Terry Tuohy, director of medical education and volunteer services, approached the local alderman's office last year about hosting a market and, not only did officials approve, they also volunteered two urban gardeners to help.
Now an all-volunteer force maintains 20 planter boxes and 15 raised beds situated throughout the top level of the garage. There's also an apiary, and produce and honey are sold at the market. Profits go back into this and other outreach programs. "We've seen an uptick in schools and park district groups visiting the farm," notes Tuohy, and 15 new volunteers have joined this year, all drawn in by community buzz.
These types of brand-extending wellness programs can be duplicated at nearly any hospital, according to CiCi Rojas, vice president, community engagement for Truman Medical Centers, Kansas City, Mo., which also has a robust wellness and farmers' market program.
"Start by thinking beyond your four walls, and then identify the people in your organization who can be seen as leaders," says Rojas, who oversees an outreach program that has increased its number of community events by 200 percent in the last 18 months. "Inventory your resources, define your marketing goals and determine what services you can provide in off-site settings."
Then, says Rojas, commit to your plan. "You can't just try something for two weeks or two months. People have to see that you're consistent."