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Five Questions About Community Engagement

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, November 17, 2010

As community engagement grows in importance, some organizations are adding community relations specialists to their executive rosters. Florida's Nemours Children's Hospital did just that earlier this month when it appointed Karen Breakell as community engagement director. She'll build community awareness of the organization's new hospital, set to open in 2012. I recently talked to Breakell and asked her to share her thoughts on her new position and the growing significance of community engagement in the current healthcare environment.

Why did Nemours decide to create the community engagement director position?
There is a real need to continue to build support for awareness and information sharing about the new hospital. My position was created to provide support in that capacity. Nemours has been around for more than 70 years and has a wonderful legacy. That said, in Florida we have been in the market for more than 20 years but the business model's been a little different, so it's important that we help our existing patients and families and future patient and families as well as future physicians and future community leaders. No one knows what the future holds. It's a big change and it builds on the great success and the vision of our past leaders.

What do you hope to accomplish in this role?
Nemour will open in 2012. Two years from now we'll be seeing our first patients, so there will be an enormous amount of work—not only on building the facility, but also in building the infrastructure and leadership team to lead the healthcare campus. Additionally, building awareness and understanding of the hospital will be important to help us with recruitment as well as building [community] awareness of the hospital.

How do you plan to build awareness?
There are a variety of ways to accomplish it. Nemours has been involved with the community through different physicians and care providers serving on different boards but we'll be elevating that as we bring more leaders on board. Essentially what we're doing is reinforcing the community partnerships we have and also building on existing success. And then there are some new ventures. We have a brand new preview center. What's a preview center? We've taken two strip mall office suites and created a mock-up of our hospital. In this new preview center, which will open in first quarter 2011, we have four hospital rooms built exactly to spec—a clinical exam room, an ER room, an ICU room, and a medical surgical room. They are fully equipped and fully furnished. They are set up the way they will be set up in the hospital along with some administrative resources.

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