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Memoirs from the day Dr. Koop came to visit.


I'm going to tell you what it was like to spend a month preparing for an invasion by a national TV crew and what it was like living through the nearly 13 hours they were inside Century City Hospital in Los Angeles. This is the good, the bad and the ugly of media relations, along with a few lessons in Murphy's Law. Ah, what memories!

Hospital's Program

Attracts Media Spotlight

First, some background. Century City Hospital is a 195-bed hospital which takes care of many different kinds of patients. Many of those patients are elderly. Some of the hospital's extremely dedicated medical experts put together a one-of-a-kind center for the elderly called the Geriatric Day Hospital (GDH). The only other center like it is in England. The GDH is the kind of warm, friendly place where elderly people come in the morning, get their own room for the day, have lunch, chat in the day room and see medical specialists who come to them. No confusing elevators or parking lots. These doctors and others come to the patients. And at the end of the day, it's like work. Everyone goes home.

This medical concept is extraordinary in its simplicity. And in other ways too...its cost effectiveness, its ability to keep elderly patients out of nursing homes and its quality of care.

The GDH has always been the object of much local publicity in Southern California but nationally it just never caught on.

Until June 1990. One phone call turned our ongoing desire for national visibility into a reality.

Word of the good work at the GDH had apparently spread and the producers of an NBC five-part television series on American health care heard about it. Since one segment of the series was dedicated to geriatric medicine, they wanted to come film the GDH for a day. In addition, the host of this series was to be former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and he would also visit the center the day of the filming and interview some of the staff.

Getting Ready

Was it all right with us?, the producer wanted to know. What was he, crazy? Of course, it was all right. It was more than all right, it was wonderful.

Prior to the actual filming, endless preparations took place. First, we examined the geriatric unit itself. Last minute repairs were made to rooms, offices, ceilings and floors. Next, we planned food for the day - from breakfast, through lunch and on to lateday snacks. Another step included planning for the staffing needs for the day. Two communication experts were needed for this job - I was one, as PR counsel to the hospital, along with Marketing Director Deborah Ettinger. Additional hospital staff also was notified. Hospital engineers, security, parking and dietary personnel were advised of special needs for that day in June...just in case we needed them on a moment's notice.

Finally, meetings were held with the GDH staff. We explained what was going to happen and that the producers wanted to capture real life in the unit, not something staged. Our advice was simple. Be yourselves. We also coordinated phone calls to nearly 20 patients coming in the day of the shoot, not only in hopes of finding a few who would not mind being filmed but also to keep the shoot day running smoothly.

The Big Day

With all the details in place - meals, parking, patients and staff taken care of - we anticipated the big day. The crew arrived about 7:30 am on Wednesday, June 20. As I got to the hospital early that morning, I noticed something odd. I couldn't enter the hospital parking lot, and I was re-routed to an alternate entrance. There were many construction workers along with trucks and equipment blocking the way. The delay behind me, I went up to the unit for the day.

The five-person crew and I arrived about the same time. The producer, his assistant, Ettinger and I had a brief powwow before shooting began with the first patient. We also reviewed the events of the morning, which included several patient evaluations, chair dancing activities and a staff team meeting. We were off to the races.

With everything lined up to start, Ettinger broke the news to me - the air conditioning was out, not only in the building but also in all of bustling, business district of Century City. And, she added, it would be out for at least the next day, too.

By 10 am, the filming was going great - cooperative patients and satisfied producer. It was outside the hospital that was surging with activity. For the next five hours, nearly every news crew in the city of Los Angeles came to cover the air conditioning story. Some even came twice. Some came to do a stand-up interview there. But none came together...they came one after the other after the other. It was non-stop action.

Planning Paid Off

Early on we were glad that two people were staffing this day. Ettinger handled the outside TV crews. I handled the phone calls and inside filming. On reflection, it sounds a lot more organized than it was.

The afternoon was a very exciting time. Dr. Koop arrived on the scene and proved to be one of the most genuine and charming people I had ever met. He sat down and talked to patients willingly. He greeted hospital executives with warmth and humor. He took the time to thank all the staff members in the GDH for their hard work. In short, he made the day worthwhile.

Before the day was over, Dr. Koop spent nearly three hours interviewing Century City Hospital's GDH experts on the future of geriatric medicine. Every time we thought he was finished, he found another aspect he wanted to cover. We were happy to accommodate.

Finally, at 8 pm, the crew shot its final footage - the outside of the hospital, so they at least got the name right...I hope.

It was a hot, sweaty, tense and productive day in June. But it all paid off. We planned well and we were prepared.

We were pleasant in the face of adversity, and I believe our attitude was a bonus, too. And most of all, we had a great story to tell. As the producer told me at the end of the day, "I think we'll have to give you more time in the segment because we have so much good information to use." Ah, music to my tired, sweaty ears!

PHOTO : Our advice was simple. Be yourselves.

PHOTO : Koop with hospital administrator Peter Bastone and Lynne Morishita, geriatric nurse practitioner.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on C. Everett Koop; filming of a television program about Century City Hospital's Geriatric Day Hospital; C. Everett Koop
Author:Hecht, Andrea P.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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