I was recently on a conference call with several members of a hospital executive team, and I found myself comparing municipal hospital board meetings to a Charles Dickens novel. Like public meetings of almost any stripe, hospital board meetings can be the best of times... unless, of course, they're the worst of times.
When the local Girl Scouts laud your facility for helping a dozen fourth grade girls earn first aid badges, or the father of new triplets thanks your medical staff for saving his wife and helping him build a family, it's all sunshine and unicorns in the board room.
But the combination of publicly elected / appointed lay people, anxious administrators and complicated issues can make hospital governance meetings very interesting forums. Layer on the additional dynamics of patient confidentiality, compliance concerns and other healthcare regulatory realities and you have all the makings for either 1) a really boring group nap or 2) a rootin' tootin' town hall where emotions and confusion (and sometimes, allegations) run high.
Sounds like pre-French Revolution Dickensian Europe, right?
Most administrators know in advance if their next board agenda will provide for a snoozer or a showdown, so it's important to plan accordingly. We've previously discussed tips for managing contentious meetings. But some board meetings, particularly those in which a sensitive issue may be raised, require a different kind of strategy.
In many instances, touchy subjects leave the hospital and its board in the unenviable position of being gagged by HIPAA, credentialing law, peer review protections and a host of other relevant regulations - even if a member of the public takes the podium to make unflattering (or even patently untrue) comments about the hospital. Retreating into the dark and sometimes defeating closet marked "no comment" can lead audience members at the meeting - which often include reporters - to conclude that the hospital either has something to hide or doesn't care about the issue.
If a hospital has a difficult item on the agenda, or knows that a negative issue may surface during the public discussion part of a meeting, it may want to consider preparing a fact sheet or policy overview to help guests and reporters better understand the context - if not the details - of a particular topic. For instance:
Planning ahead - and working around issues that can't be addressed head on - can help "the worst of times" in hospital board meetings move along more smoothly.
Consider the following five strategies to help your C-suite elevate its board communication and engagement efforts...