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Health care is an issue that hits close to home for nearly every Minnesotan. And as it continues to be top-of-mind, Minnesotans are overwhelmed with negative stories about health care – rising costs, decreasing access to mental health services, opioid overprescribing, vaccine misinformation and youth concussions.
In addition to these ongoing challenges, Minnesota’s hospitals faced increasing nationwide pressure from interest groups driving legislative mandates on hospitals and inflicting harm to their reputations. These groups had the resources and will to execute protracted campaigns to the detriment of hospitals’ reputations and financial bottom lines
In the highly regulated, highly publicized industry of health care, an easy answer to almost any public policy question is “no.” Tunheim believed this reactive opposition was often detrimental to the hospitals and challenged them to “be for something.” To strengthen its position in public policy debates, MHA needed to ensure that hospitals’ commitment to work outside their walls to strengthen their communities was understood by both the general public and lawmakers.
To do this, Tunheim encouraged MHA to use its strongest asset: its members. Hospitals and health systems are some of the state’s largest employers. In Greater Minnesota, they are centerpieces of their communities. And in towns throughout the state, local hospitals are leading innovative efforts to improve the health of their communities.
Before developing a campaign, a better understanding of Minnesotans’ perceptions of health care challenges was needed. To accomplish this, Tunheim conducted qualitative research via focus groups around the state to understand Minnesotans’ points of view about health care, providers and insurance. In addition to focus groups, Tunheim conducted a baseline public opinion survey to assess the values and reputation of local hospitals. Tunheim then conducted an annual survey to track key values – trustworthiness, affordability and community engagement – as well as public sentiment on important public health issues, including health care costs, mental health and opioids.
On a yearly basis, Tunheim measures against the campaign’s baseline data using public opinion polls. At times, this has meant Tunheim makes recommendations to pivot campaign content. As the campaign entered its third year, polling data affirmed growing public contempt for health care. At that time, Tunheim recommended that the campaign narrow its focus to identifying thought leadership opportunities on critical or emerging public health topics that enjoy broad support from hospitals, as well as alignment with potential public policy goals: mental health, opioids and the cost of care. The strategic focus on these topics will be reflected in campaign content and earned media opportunities, as well as communications and legislative policy efforts at the association. Tunheim also worked with the MHA Board of Directors and campaign steering committee to develop strategic plans positioning hospitals on mental health issues.