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Photo by COD Newsroom / CC BY

Situation: Buffalo, New York-based Catholic Health, formed in 1998, is a non-profit healthcare system that provides care to Western New Yorkers across a network of hospitals, primary care centers, imaging centers and other community ministries.  The successful system consolidated hospitals and services following the 1998 merger; then introduced advancements in cardiac, neonatal and other services; increased patients served; and improved financial performance.  In 2000, Catholic Health needed to expand comprehensive cardiac care, the largest patient demand, projected to increase more than 20 percent in the next decade. Although Catholic Health led in cardiology services (with 45 percent market share), none of its hospitals provided cardiac surgical procedures. Catholic Health desired to provide a full continuum of cardiac care services rather than transfer patients outside the system to receive surgery at competing hospitals regarded for quality cardiac care. Catholic Health’s goal: Successfully add heart surgery and advanced cath lab services in a competitive marketplace. Although Catholic Health had obtained necessary Certificate of Need approval from New York regulators, success would not come easily.

Strategy & tactics: Catholic Health board and management called on Hanser & Associates to recommend a communication strategy, message and plan that would resolve competitive issues, address stakeholder concerns related to Catholic Health’s expansion, and launch the new service line to produce revenue for Catholic Health. The firm, already knowledgeable regarding marketing of cardiac services and familiar with the Catholic Health executive team through a series of previous projects, began the assignment with primary and secondary research. We interviewed local cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, health care administrators and community leaders. We also conducted comparative market research using data on cardiology centers in the top 100 markets in the U.S, which proved the need for an additional surgical center in Buffalo and that “competition breeds quality.” These findings preempted competitors from credibly declaring, “Buffalo doesn’t need another cardiac surgery center.” Then, Hanser & Associates wrote physician, employee, donor and community communications; supported media relations; and created new Catholic Health Cardiac Services marketing materials.

Results: The strategy and communication program created by Hanser & Associates received approval from Catholic Health’ management and board, and was implemented within weeks. The resulting Catholic Health cardiac expansion announcement produced community-wide understanding and support of the new service. Funds to build and equip the new facility were quickly raised from donors. Top national cardiac surgeons sought the position of medical director for the new program. The program began performing surgeries in newly constructed cardiac operating rooms within 18 months! Net result: A much-needed cardiac surgery program serving the needs of patients in Western New York and producing millions of dollars of new revenue annually for Catholic Health.