Print is dead, we keep hearing, and the only way to reach employees is digitally, most of all through mobile.
Yet for one group of hospitals, the best way forward is a return to the past, with a magazine that employees receive by mail at home.
Dignity Health’s Southern California Service Area, a six-hospital unit of a multistate company, has launched a print-only publication to foster unity among a scattered staff.
Never mind the naysayers. The new plan is working—and the magazine is growing, says Daniel Lacovara, director of internal communications for Dignity Health’s Southern California Service Area. The publication is called “Service Area Connect.”
In another throwback, the magazine is mailed to employees’ homes, not piled in breakrooms and at nursing stations. With the exception of a small Spanish version, employees can’t get it at work.
“It may feel for some people like going backwards, but the feedback we’ve gotten from employees and from the hospital president, is really, really positive,” he says.
The service area covers 10,000 employees in the system’s six hospitals across the Southland from Glendale to San Bernardino. The larger corporation, headquartered in San Francisco, boasts 60,000 caregivers and staff.
Geographically scattered idealists
Dignity Health is a not-for-profit entity providing medicine for a largely low-income, underserved population. Although people across the system share a mission and altruistic motives, they generally don’t identify with the larger service area, Lacovara says.
Employees in Long Beach tend to say they work for St. Mary Medical Center, not Dignity Heath or the Southern California Service Area. With the magazine, Lacovara and his team seek to heighten a sense of connection across the region.
“Our real goal is that we think of ourselves as a community of care, and that no matter what hospital you work at, you share the vision and values of our organization,” Lacovara says.
When Lacovara arrived in November 2017, the service area had already moved all of its internal comms to electronic. This left administrators and communicators facing a problem familiar at many hospitals: Much of their staff is out on the floors or consulting with patients, not working in cubicles.
“We were finding our click rates or open rates were really, really low, except for opening the menu for the week,” Lacovara says. “We were missing a huge swath of the employee population, and at the same time people were very focused on their own hospital.”
Lacovara decided last spring to launch a magazine. He has three managers who do internal comms as well as handling publicity for two of the six hospitals.
He recalls telling them: “We’re going to make a magazine. It’s going to be a print publication, and we’re going to mail it to people’s home. We’re not going to distribute at the hospital; we’re not going to put it on people’s desks. We’re going to send it to their house.”
The triannual magazine’s first issue was a 12-page edition mailed out to homes. (The Spanish edition is left in areas where staffers tend to speak that language exclusively, as in food service.) There are patient stories, as well as pieces about employees whose lives were transformed or who transformed others’ lives working there.
The second issue, which is about to go to print, has grown to 20 pages. The publication has proven affordable, Lacovara says: Design, printing and mailing of the 12-pager to 10,000 employees came in under $10,000. That number will grow by about $2,000 with the second edition.
Stories include the “amazing staff” of a traumatic brain injury center who treat child victims of physical abuse. The magazine also profiled one such youngster.
Another piece offered tips for skin safety in sunny Southern California, because the hospital often deals with that. And the publication has featured a women’s center at its downtown Los Angeles hospital.
The editorial team invited leaders from the six hospitals to submit six-word stories about the organization. The coming edition, which is about to go to press, features the service area’s six longest-serving employees. One has worked in the boiler room at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach for 50 years. As it happens, he was born in that hospital.
“No one would ever know about him unless they’d seen him in the magazine,” Lacovara says.
So far, the reaction has been positive. The communication team walks the floors of their hospitals, and they hear from other employees.
“We’ve had people actually ask, ‘When’s the next one coming out?’” Lacovara says. “A number of people actually said to me, “I got it at my house,’ with sort of an exclamation point.”
That’s because people don’t tend to get work-related information at home anymore; instead, it arrives by email or on the intranet. That’s why a print publication feels special.
“There’s a message in that magazine,” Lacovara says. “It’s that, ‘You belong to this service area. You belong to all of these hospitals, wherever your paycheck comes from. You are Dignity Health.”