A PR challenge: What if your hospital was known as ‘the best place to die’?

A look at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital’s delicate approach to promoting its palliative-care program.

How would you like it if your hospital was known as “the best place to die”?

That’s the designation Gundersen Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wis., gained when NPR published a story that featured Respecting Choices, the hospital’s end-of-life, advance care directives program.

Despite this headline, “Why this hospital is the best place to die,” the article didn’t create a public relations nightmare within the hospital or the local community, says Chris Stauffer, the hospital’s media and communications director.

“People in the community didn’t really know to react to the story,” Stauffer says. “Even local reporters told us that they (NPR) got the headline wrong. There’s a greater understanding of the topic here.”

Death is a difficult subject for health-care communicators to tackle.

“When most people think of it from a public relations standpoint, end-of-life care is a scary topic,” Stauffer says, “but it’s a topic that needs more attention.”

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