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Organisers received great feedback on the recent virtual IABC Victoria event ‘Compelling storytelling during COVID-19: a case study in corporate affairs’ presented by Healthscope’s Chief of Corporate Affairs Julia Foley.

The event was well attended by IABC members and friends, as well as several members of Healthscope’s corporate affairs team.

Julia shared the story of how she, a newcomer to the healthcare sector, and her small, evolving corporate affairs team responded to the crisis wrought by the world’s worse pandemic in 100 years.

Supporting 43 hospitals and healthcare facilities and 19,000 employees including frontline health workers to navigate COVID-19 care, Healthscope’s corporate affairs team helped the organisation to meet head-on a challenging and dynamic new reality. This reality included major disruption of elective surgery, a main source of revenue for private healthcare. According to Ian Grisold, State Manager (Victoria & Tasmania), Julia has been “front and centre through this crisis guiding Healthscope in clear and prompt communications both internally and externally”.

With limited internal communication infrastructure, the corporate affairs team mobilised to create new channels, moving quickly to earn trust. In doing so, they had to ignore some rules and blockers, demonstrating that “more gets done in a crisis”. The team’s response included CEO emails, communications from line managers and general managers, a COVID-19 website and a Facebook group. Key principles included:

  • Over-communicate
  • Be quick
  • Central, single source of truth to give clarity
  • Amplify leaders who give direction
  • One message, multiple channels
  • Openness and transparency

“The fastest and easiest way for us to establish a two-way communication channel was through a closed Facebook group,” said Julia.

Some 3000 staff signed up in the first 48 hours, and at 20 days the group had more than 5000 members. Their strategy paid off: 80 per cent of staff rated Healthscope 8/10 on openness and transparency during the COVID-19 crisis.

In the tradition of powerful storytelling, Julia did not just tell, she showed. A highlight of her presentation was an episode from the team’s ‘This COVID Life’ series, in which Nurse Unit Manager Larissa Novosseltseva (Knox Private Hospital) reflects on the power of song to boost people’s spirits in difficult times.  Knox Private Hospital admitted 30 residents from two aged-care homes where COVID-19 outbreaks had occurred. Some of them had contracted COVID-19. The Nurse Unit Manager and a patient exchanged songs in the languages they were born to: the patient in Greek and Larissa in Russian. It was a beautiful anecdote of compassion and care, and there was hardly a dry eye among participants when the camera cut to Larissa singing a few bars of the Russian song.

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