County-Owned Hospital Secures Community Support to Sell to For-Profit System


A mid-western not-for-profit hospital was facing issues common to many standalone hospitals around the country: declining reimbursements, an unfavorable payor mix, increasing costs and lack of capital. After the board of trustees determined that the future of the hospital was in jeopardy, they set out to secure a financial partner (new owner). The community needed to understand the wisdom behind the decision in order to support the efforts to sell to a for-profit system. In fact, because it was owned by the county, the transaction required a referendum of the voters where a majority would vote, “YES” to the divestiture of the hospital.

Strategy and Tactics

Lovell Communications played an intentionally behind-the-scenes role in the efforts; we understood that local politics were critical and that anyone speaking for the transaction needed to live and work in the community. We contracted with a local agency and led the communications efforts beginning with the development of the master plan that was used throughout the lengthy process of educating the various stakeholders in the hospital including: employees, patients and families, medical staff, the two Mayors as well as the City Council and County Commission, the Attorney General, volunteers/donors and the media. Our plan included:

  • Research/surveys to determine the needs/wants/ “must-haves” for the community
  • The development of a Citizens Panel
  • A revised website
  • PowerPoint presentations and speeches for the hospital CEO
  • Collateral materials
  • Outdoor and print advertising
  • Door hangers and yard signs
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Direct mail
  • Internal and external newsletters
  • Internal and community forums
  • An aggressive media relations effort


Referendums to sell a county-owned hospital are hard to win. The communications team worked every day to educate the community, secure support and endorsements from businesses, and answer media questions related to the potential sale. On vote day, 90 percent of those registered voted and 77 percent voted YES, in favor of selling the hospital to a for-profit organization that has invested millions in the community and proven to be an excellent partner for the hospital.

Client Response

“Lovell Communications has decades of experience and a deep understanding of the healthcare industry. They can expertly manage internal and external communications around a wide range of issues currently facing the industry through media relations, social media, internal and other stakeholders, old-fashioned grassroots PR and networking with their many contacts in the industry. I can highly recommend them.”

– Patricia Ball, Ed. D., Healthcare Consultant and former SVP of LHP Hospital Group, Inc.

Ultimately, our efforts with Karmanos brought their brand to an audience of more than 112 million in our first year.