[VIDEO] Christina Deidesheimer of Beebe Healthcare on Empathetic Crisis Communication
What Did You Learn? Episode 22
Beebe Healthcare’s marketing communicators were in a unique situation when the pandemic began. The health system is located in a large tourist destination in Delaware. Christina Deidesheimer, VP of Communications Outreach and Chief Communications Officer, and her team had to navigate COVID-19 messaging for a diverse audience, of people living, working, or visiting their area.
Christina shares how she and Beebe’s CEO Dr. David Tam use a top-down method of communicating clearly and supporting both staff and patients. She says, “We make sure that our caregivers are taken care of because we need them to be there for our community.”
We talk about issues facing most hospitals today such as connecting with patients and ramping up safety procedures all while managing budget shortfalls during this episode of “What Did You Learn?”
Ahava: Hi. Welcome back to “What Did You Learn?” I’m your host Ahava Leibtag, and I’m very excited to have here with me today, Christina Deidesheimer, who is the VP Communications Outreach and Chief Communications Officer of Beebe Healthcare in Delaware. Christina, thank you so much for being here.
Christina: Thank you for having me, Ahava.
Ahava: Great. So tell me, in the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people were on lockdown. I’m sure you were working like crazy, but my audience loves to learn a little bit about the people that I’m interviewing. Was there any new hobby you took up? Did you bake anything?
Christina: I took up pottery, actually. That’s so fun. It was very meditative.
Ahava: Yes, I’m sure. Would you go to a class, or spin in your house?
Christina: I did. I went to a class early on, and then when it became a little too crazy and it was a little bit of a crisis then I just did some work at home. I also made some dolls periodically, so I doubled down on that.
Ahava: That’s awesome. Somebody I interviewed was like, do you want me to say that I took up drinking or should I just… Audience, you can guess who that was. So the pandemic starts. Talk to me about what were the things that you realized you had to do immediately? And what were the things where you sort of thought to yourself, I’m not really sure what to do next?
Christina: So the things that we had to do immediately were communicate. We had to tell people what was going on. So those people watching and listening, who have disaster or crisis communications in their background, understand what that means. Your first thought is, okay, we have to tell people what’s going on in a pandemic that hasn’t happened in 100 years. It’s a little hard to do that, but we used whatever kind of communications channels that we had to just start from the beginning and say, okay, here’s what we think is happening. Here’s what we’re doing to keep you safe. Here’s what we think you should do to keep yourself safe. And then we went from there.
Ahava: And it’s interesting that you talk about that crisis communications background. So on your team were, obviously you’re a leader, and you have to sort of get everybody on the same page about what to do and how to do it. Did you ever have to stop and say to your team, this is what we have to do, and here’s why we have to do it.
Christina: Absolutely. So I warned my team. We have a very collaborative environment on my team, so it’s a very kind of democratic if you will, process that we go through. So we understand what the goals are, what we’ve got to do, and we really kind of usually have the ability to have a little bit more organic process to get there in a crisis. You don’t really have that luxury.
Ahava: And did you find that it was easy to get executive support? Were there questions about what you were doing? How often did you communicate with your CEO?
Christina: Oh, well, we are very lucky. We had an interim CEO, Rick Schaffner, who is now our Executive Vice President and COO. We had him for a little bit of time, and then we had already planned on onboarding our new CEO and President, Dr. David Tam. He was going to start April 1st, ended up starting early because of the pandemic. And he is an amazing doctor, Navy vet. He jumped in right away. He understands the importance of communications. He understands the importance of the CEO being out there as the face of the organization. So there was never a moment where he said, I don’t know if we should say that. I don’t know if I should be on camera. He was always available for interviews and there were plenty of them. He and I connected on a daily basis and there was a lot of support from the rest of the executive team as well.
Ahava: I think one of the interesting silver linings that we’re all seeing that’s coming out of this is that I think in some healthcare organizations, there’s this sort of not disrespect of marketing, but kind of like, what are you doing over there? And now it’s, oh, you’re actually really important and we need you. So that is, I think, one thing that the industry is experiencing as a whole, and it’s good to hear that it’s everywhere. So you and I are recording this about five days before the election. There is a lot of tension as the numbers are starting to surge again. I think we’re all expecting to see I don’t know what we’re at, 2nd, 3rd wave. What are you doing to prepare your team at this point?
Christina: Well, we have some things for us and against us. The thing that’s for us is that we’ve already been through one crisis wave, so we already have communication channels that were built, virtual town halls with our community and our team. We have an intranet that’s been in place for a while, so we know how to use that with daily updates. There’s a lot of processes that have already been built in a crisis, so we know we can go back to those. What’s working against us is that this time around, we’re not closing services, right? Unless absolutely necessary for the safety of everyone. So at the same time that we have to really communicate in a crisis, we also have to make sure that we are helping to support the growth of our volumes. That’s really what we’re faced with right now.
Ahava: Yeah, it’s interesting. I haven’t really heard anyone talk about that yet, but it’s true. You can’t really stop anymore because first of all, the backlog is tremendous everywhere. You just have to get through patients, right? We can’t stop, we’ve got to go on living on some level. I think that’s what people saw during the first lockdown. It was really hard.
Christina: Right, and once you get through the backlog, you’ve got to make up that tremendous budget shortfall that you had. And this is all hospitals across the country are facing this. When you paused or stopped surgical procedures, that revenue wasn’t coming to you. And so you have to make that up. And on top of that, during the crisis, we had a singular focus. We all did. It was COVID. And because we weren’t doing a lot of other things, we had some practices closed, we weren’t doing surgeries. It was almost a luxury. When we look back on it anyway, it was like, oh, all we had to do was this one thing. Now we have to do so many things, and so it’s a little bit more challenging.
Ahava: So you’re actually situated in sort of an interesting geographic area because you border Maryland, and you’ve got Pennsylvania, and New Jersey and the proximity to New York. I mean, you’re really right in the middle of it. Did that impact the way that you handled things? Did you have to think about your communication strategy differently? I know everybody was supposed to stay at home, but listen, if you’re close to a hospital, that’s where you’re going to go. What was that like for you in terms of the strategy that you put into place?
Christina: Yeah, it was very different for us, actually, because we are one of the top tourist destinations in the country. Those who have never been here won’t know that. But actually because of our proximity to D.C. and New York and Philadelphia, Jersey and Baltimore, whoever I didn’t name yet, we do have a very heavy a million or more tourist population every year. It’s a heavy tourist destination. We had to communicate with those here, and we’re a very high retirement area as well, so we had to communicate with those people who had second homes here. We also had to communicate with those who were thinking of coming here to sort of get away from the New York or the Baltimore, as well as the people who were permanent residents who didn’t want those tourists here. So it was very interesting to talk to a variety of stakeholders.
Ahava: Yeah, that is. As a content professional, that fascinates me because you’re trying to balance the needs of all these audiences and you’re working 24/7 to get those messages out. Would you, and, I don’t know if at your level you saw this happen, but would your team write one piece of content and then repurpose it for these other groups or, is that how you worked it out?
Christina: We did when we had to, because you write core messages, right? Because you want to make sure that you’re being consistent and we wanted to make sure above everything, Beebe is here to serve the people who live, work and visit Sussex County. And so we wanted to make that very clear because there was a lot of animosity from the people who lived there of people coming and visiting. Although we are a tourist community and that’s how we rely for income, there was animosity from the people who had second homes who said, why can’t I come there? That’s not fair. I own a home and so forth. And so we had to really kind of walk those lines to say, we’re here for your care. Here’s what you might want to think about. It was repurposing and it was thinking about that audience and how they want to receive the message and what they might want to hear and also kind of what we need to tell them.
Ahava: Yeah. I think that, I haven’t really heard anyone talk about just that. Sort of thinking through the different audiences that you have to serve at that moment in time.
That’s really interesting in terms of geography. At the same time that this was happening, Black Lives Matter happens. And then all this political stuff about the election is happening. What do you do then? You’re like, could things get worse? Yes. Yes, they can.
Christina: Yeah. It’s really an opportunity for us to have conversations that wherever you are, whoever you are, are long past due, right? And so it was an opportunity for us to have those conversations as well as humans, as colleagues, as a community. And you just do it. We joined many other health systems in the state and across the country to really have conversations about it and to really think about our part in social and racial injustice and what we plan to do about it moving forward.
Ahava: How are you protecting your team from burnout because everyone I’m talking to is like, I can’t anymore, if I have to say one more thing about this pandemic.
Christina: First of all, just talking about it, acknowledging that those feelings exist. As the leader, as the executive on the team being able to start a team meeting with okay, here’s what I’m feeling. In the past month, I’ve felt helpless. I’ve felt useless. I’ve felt anxious. I’ve felt tired. Raise your hand if you’ve felt any of those and just everyone to raise their hand. Yeah. Everyone raises their hand, and it starts a conversation and allowing us to spend maybe 15 minutes of our time just talking about that. Because if we can’t be humans, then we can’t get our work done. I think that’s the main thing. I think something else is my team has the ability, we have the luxury. I remind them it is a luxury to work from home for part of the week. So they’re able to do that, which really takes a lot of the strain off of them. It allows them to work in a little bit more relaxed environment. There’s still just as much work to do but that’s there as well. The other great thing that I like about working at Beebe is it’s from the top down. From the CEO, who will make a video about the effect that this is having. He made a video about trauma. We worked with a local psychologist and other social workers in the area to really address trauma and the fact that now really none of us are immune to trauma because COVID has created that in all of us. It starts with him and then all of our leadership teams are really engaged in that checking in with our teams. We have a wonderful organizational development team that puts together educational sessions, meditative sessions. So really, across the board what we’re trying to do is just make sure that our caregivers are taken care of because we really need them to be there for our community.
Ahava: Yeah, you’re right, put your own oxygen mask on first. So, Christina, you and I are at a conference, hopefully, only a year from now, we’re able to meet in person. And I turn to you, and I say, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned? And what do you plan on taking with you in your marketing and your approach to your profession just for the rest of your career?
Christina: I would say the most important thing I’ve learned is the importance of resiliency. That’s a word that I think has been thrown around a lot, but I think we’ve learned the true importance of it. And what resiliency really means, it doesn’t mean suck it up. It means find a way to take care of yourself, to take care of your team, to find gratitude and to move forward because in healthcare, that’s what we need to do. That’s the promise that we made to our patients. And I think what I’m going to bring to my communications, my marketing, my outreach work is to really double down on empathy. We’ve always been a human centered organization and in my department, we’ve always been human centered and focusing on empathy and ethnography to lead the way and allow the patient or the community’s voice to tell us what it is that they want. And I think that certainly during this time, but definitely moving forward, doubling down on that is going to be absolutely necessary.
Ahava: Christina, do you have a six-word phrase that you’ve used to describe this time period? Yes.
Christina: Actually, I really liked your Shakespearean scene six words that you sent to me. I found one, too and it’s part of a Shakespearean quote. And it is, “some have greatness thrust upon them.”
Ahava: Yeah, I agree with you. I love that. I really, really love that. Thank you so much. Christina, where can people find you?
Christina: Where can they find me? They can find me on LinkedIn.
Ahava: If you found this video on LinkedIn, you can find a longer version on YouTube. We have a YouTube channel at Aha Media Group. And you can also find it as an audio podcast wherever you find your podcasts. Just search, “What Did You Learn?” I know that we learned a lot today from you, Christina. Thank you so much for being a part of it.
Christina: Thank you very much. Hope you have a good day.
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- Episode 1 feat. Amanda Todorovich of Cleveland Clinic
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- Episode 5 feat. Lauren Smith of UT Health
- Episode 6 feat. marketing consultant Chris Boyer
- Episode 7 feat. marketing expert Katie Martell
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