No Time for Shyness

Executive Interview

Wellforce’s Communications Officer Brooke Hynes encourages supply chain executives to tell their story

Brooke Hynes

Talking about yourself and the supply chain team’s accomplishments isn’t necessarily tooting your own horn. It’s communicating, building relationships, informing, educating, and demonstrating to others that your department’s success ties into the success of the entire hospital or health system.

Besides, how can your team’s accomplishments speak for themselves if you don’t speak for them?

That’s a question that Brooke Hynes, chief communications officer at Wellforce in Burlington, Massachusetts, poses, not just to supply chain professionals, but all departments in today’s healthcare systems.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Hynes graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism and mass communications. “I followed the public relations track, because I’ve always been interested in, ‘How do you sculpt the message?’ and ‘How do you make sure that message is getting to the right people at the right time?’”

Supply chain should be asking itself the same questions, she says.

“The key part for supply chain is making sure you’re bringing in the communications team and thinking about how – and when – you want to communicate your message,” says Hynes. For example, if supply chain is introducing a change that will affect others in the system, are they doing so in a timely manner, so staff has time to understand and adjust to the change?

The message will have greater impact if supply chain has solid relationships with the rest of the hospital or health system, she adds. Those type of relationships can help supply chain orchestrate change in such a way that others in the organization feel they are part of it.

Ways to communicate
The communications team can help supply chain market its department in a variety of ways: face-to-face encounters, and hospital or health system newsletters. There also may be opportunities to include supply chain’s work in external messaging that addresses what the system is doing to lower the cost of care.

Wellforce is a relatively young system, having been created in 2014 by Circle Health (including Lowell General Hospital) and Tufts Medical Center. It includes the physicians networks of these organizations: New England Quality Care Alliance and the Lowell General Physician Hospital Organization. In January 2017, Hallmark Health – including MelroseWakefield Hospital, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the Hallmark Physician Hospital Organization, joined Wellforce as an equal, founding member.

But even four years after its formation, administration feels it’s still important to educate staff at each facility about Wellforce’s role in their planning and activities.

For that reason, Hynes’ team kicked off a “road show” earlier this year. Every month, a leader from Wellforce presents at managers’ meetings in each of the facilities. Leading it off was Christopher Johnson, senior vice president of supply chain. “Folks were raving about it,” she says.

The reason Johnson was so successful is that rather than talking about what supply chain has accomplished, he talked about how his department worked with key people in the hospital to accomplish certain goals, says Hynes.

“So you don’t necessarily need a formal marketing plan for your department,” she says. “But you do have to have a sense of who you are and how you can serve other departments.”

Internal newsletters are another effective way to share your department’s accomplishments with others, she continues. “Departments like mine are always looking for success stories and content,” she says. Better still if supply chain can tie its accomplishments to a hospitalwide or systemwide goal. A case in point might be money saved or better outcomes achieved due to standardization of a physician-preference item.

“You always want to tie your message to what matters to your audience,” says Hynes.

It’s difficult – though not impossible – to get local newspaper coverage about a cost-reduction program or major contract, says Hynes. But if your CEO makes presentations or writes blogs for the community, he or she might be eager to share news of a supply chain project that demonstrates how the health system is reducing costs or improving care.

“Become friends with people like me,” she adds. “Take the editor of your hospital’s internal newsletter out to lunch or coffee, and make sure they understand what you are trying to do.”

Times of crisis
Hynes has had experience with crisis communications, including the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and a five-day work stoppage. So too do most supply chain departments. An example might be the unavailability of critical items, such as saline IV solutions, due to natural disasters.

Two things to keep in mind when facing a crisis, she says.

First, be prepared. Have a plan in place for communicating product outages to the people most affected, e.g., nursing or pharmacy.

Second, help your audience understand that resolving crises can be a process, not an overnight event. “Keeping people regularly updated on your progress is huge,” says Hynes. “Sometimes we fall into a trap, where we actually get used to being in the midst of a crisis. Supply chain might realize IV bags will be in short supply for some time to come, but the nurses on the floor might not. They may think the situation will be resolved next week.”

Give regular updates about the situation as well as a view out, even if it’s to say you don’t know for sure when the product shortage will end. “Let others in the hospital know this is a longer-term issue, so they can get their heads around the fact that this is something they may have to deal with for awhile.”

Bring your story back to one of the “strategic pillars” of the organization, she says. For supply chain, that isn’t too difficult. “I guarantee you that one of the strategic pillars of every health system in the country is providing affordable and efficient care. Tie into that and show how supply chain is helping achieve that goal.

“It goes back to relationships, talking to stakeholders, and that’s where your communications team can help. If you have hard news to share, ask for their help in how you can best relay the message.

“Your internal communications team wants to know these things. Our job is to ensure that all employees are informed, engaged and involved in the conversation.”