By Mary Warlow Bushel
The current situation with COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on a field people often take for granted – public health. Alongside healthcare providers, public health officials at the federal, state, and local level are working tirelessly to ensure that our communities are educated about the current pandemic and prepared to meet the increased demands on our healthcare system.
In the midst of all of this, public health workers also have to carry on with the important work they do every day to keep our communities healthy and safe, especially its most vulnerable members. While it may feel like everything is on hold, public health issues aren’t taking a break, and in some instances could actually be made worse during self-isolation or sheltering in place.
Advocates and health care providers, for example, have been keeping an eye on how COVID-19 is affecting people who use drugs or have a mental illness like anxiety or depression. Many lower-income individuals have trouble accessing the care they need under the best of circumstances. The isolation and lack of access to behavioral health treatments during this time makes them especially at risk. Behavioral health systems across the country are working diligently to continue supporting providers and reaching people in need of services throughout this crisis.
There are countless examples of ways that public health organizations are working to adapt and address disparities that are being compounded by the pandemic. At this time, and always, we are proud to support our public health clients as they work to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities.
Here are a few examples of our public health clients and the creative ways we partnered with them to amplify their voices, increase their impact, and advance their mission through innovative communications strategy and design.
CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) works to prevent injury and violence in all its many forms. To do this, the NCIPC provides reliable data, research, and resources to local public health officials, health care providers, and the public. The information and tools that the NCIPC provides address a range of public health topics from older adult falls, concussions, and motor vehicle safety to prescription drug overdose, intimate partner violence and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
With so many areas of expertise and so many resources to share, NCIPC needed help ensuring the right tools were reaching the right audiences at the right time.
Partnering with Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick, The Hatcher Group is working with NCIPC on a large-scale, multi-faceted engagement that includes:
- Digital first communications strategy for the Injury Center website (evaluation and redesign)
- Social media strategy and implementation
- Strategic communications, messaging, and design around overdose prevention, ACEs, and other topics
- Messaging and tools that can be used by state and local public health departments and organizations
- Promotion and outreach for a new database that will house all of the Injury Center’s resources
- Creation of a series of animated videos that translate complex health topics
Behavioral Health Coalition and Keep the Door Open
The Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition is a coalition of over 100 behavioral health organizations – focusing on mental health and substance use disorder treatment and services – from across the state. Each year, the Coalition comes together to develop a unified policy platform for Maryland’s legislative session to improve the behavioral health system in the state. This year, the governor proposed cutting nearly $25 million from the state’s behavioral health budget. Advocates came together to fight back to ensure Marylanders have access to quality behavioral health services – when and where they need it.
The Hatcher Group provided multi-faceted support for the Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition this legislative session, as the coalition sought to restore full funding for behavioral health services to the state budget and support legislation benefitting behavioral health programs. Our partnership included strategic communications, media outreach, and social media execution – maintaining an engaging presence on their social channels throughout session. The Hatcher team also designed materials for and helped plan the coalition’s fifth annual Keep the Door Open rally – and conducted successful media outreach about the event. This year’s inspiring Keep the Door Open rally drew more than 400 advocates.
Hatcher also created the content for and designed one-pagers for lawmakers about the coalition’s legislative agenda. Before Session ended early in March in response to the pandemic, the Coalition had successfully fought to restore funding for behavioral health services, incorporate behavioral health support in the landmark education legislation, and focus attention on equal access to behavioral health services, expanded crisis response, and overdose prevention sites.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
The rising cost of healthcare and prescription medication is a burden for many people in the US. For people with chronic conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the cost of life-changing medication can often be a source of anxiety and a barrier to treatment. There are several medications available that help slow the progression of the disease, but those medications can be very expensive – sometimes thousands of dollars per month. And medication and treatment only work if people can access it.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) advocates to help improve the lives of people with MS, including working to make medication more accessible. To raise the profile of this issue and put more pressure on Congress in 2020, The Hatcher Group worked with NMSS to conduct market research and better understand how people were dealing with the high cost of prescription MS treatments.
Using the research, The Hatcher Group built a campaign that captured the experience of people living with MS and their struggle to access affordable medication. Through more than 30 interviews, we produced 23 written profiles and five short documentary videos. We also created a social media toolkit to help with the dissemination of all the profiles.
Behavioral Health System Baltimore
Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) is a nonprofit organization that works with Baltimore City to manage and coordinate the city’s public behavioral health system, which serves people with substance use and mental health disorders. Every day, BHSB works to align policies, programming, and resources to support the wellness of individuals and communities in Baltimore City. One of the ways that they work to build healthy communities is through raising the public awareness about behavioral health issues.
A major barrier to accessing treatment for people with substance use or mental health disorders is the ongoing stigma surrounding drug use and mental illness. Many people don’t seek the help they need for their medical condition because they are worried about how other people will react – friends, family members, neighbors. The Hatcher Group worked with BHSB to create and launch the See Past the Stigma campaign.
The Hatcher Group created an ad campaign centered around a celebrity spokesperson, Tony Jefferson, a former member of the Baltimore Ravens pro football team. We recorded audio and video for paid advertising, including a 30-second radio commercial and a short video for social media. We also promoted the social media video on Facebook and complimented these spots with bus shelter ads, creating a three-pronged advertising approach to launch the campaign with a splash.
Following the celebrity ads, we focused the latter half of the campaign on people from the Baltimore area. We developed a portrait series about people living with mental health and substance use disorders and a short video featuring them in the portraits, as well as a documentary following one person who had experienced stigma.
The New Normal
Public health professionals and advocates are among the everyday heroes that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown to be essential to the health of our communities. They are working to carry on their missions, while responding to a crisis. They are dedicated to share information and resources to ensure that everyone is being cared for and that no one is forgotten during this crisis – just as they do each and every day. And, they are continuing to shine a light on health disparities – for example, pushing for access to COVID-related information disaggregated by race and income. When we come through this, and we will get through this, the lessons learned can help us build a better healthcare system. We offer special praise and gratitude to our COVID-19 superheroes. Our most humble thanks to each of you – stay well!