Systems rebrand, raising their own profiles as they unify their organizations

September 15, 2015


About six years ago, during a meeting to consider changes to the brand identity of Hospital Sisters Health System, leaders viewed a PowerPoint slide packed with the logos of all of the system's 13 hospitals.

Erin French, left, and Elisa Marshall, both social workers at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital of St. Louis, attend a July 29 event to launch the new brand and new names at SSM Health's St. Louis facilities. Those facility names now include the system's name.

"It looked like a NASCAR car," said Brian Reardon, Hospital Sisters Health System vice president of external relations. All of the facilities' logos were different. "It looked busy and disorganized, and not like a system." Since then, the system has introduced a unifying logo for all of its facilities and has been adding the "HSHS" moniker to its facilities' names.

The Springfield, Ill.-based system, which now has 14 hospitals, is among the many health care systems — those in the ministry included — that have been rebranding themselves and their facilities to emphasize that they are integrated networks of care. Reardon said, "Everyone seems to be going through some level of this and moving towards 'systemness.'"

Among the Catholic health systems that have recently undertaken — or are now undertaking — comprehensive, organization-wide rebranding: St. Louis-based Ascension; Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives; Mercy Health, formerly Catholic Health Partners of Cincinnati; San Francisco-based Dignity Health; Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health; and St. Louis-based SSM Health.

Brand experts in the ministry told Catholic Health World that their moves toward standardization and integration go far beyond changing out logos and facility names. Joyce Ross is system senior vice president for marketing and communications for Catholic Health Initiatives. She said the rebranding is not taking place in isolation from other key strategic initiatives. "You can't separate brand work from other work," she said.


"The brand strategy helped to create the platform for other changes to come together — like scaffolding to create a unified organization," Ross said.

Changing structures
Ross said CHI's rebranding is tied to its transition from being a holding company that "sat in the background" in relation to its ministries to an operating company purposefully integrating its ministries in order to make the changes needed to perform well under health care reform. The changes include pursuing population health strategies, spreading best practices, coordinating care among providers and partnering in new ways with other organizations — all activities requiring a system orientation, said Ross.

To reflect this changing operational approach, CHI in May 2014 began the public rollout of its new brand, including adding "CHI" to the beginning of facility names and using a newly created logo at about two-thirds of its 105 hospitals and at its other wholly owned nonhospital facilities. The bulk of the branding work has been completed, said Ross.

SSM Health's market-by-market rollout of its rebranding initiative started last year and will be complete in 2016. John Nguyen, SSM Health system vice president for marketing and communications, said the rebranding is in tune with a centralization of functions. The system's 20 hospitals in four states "worked as individual regions" until they began to unify about two or three years ago in order to better coordinate care, integrate their operations, share best practices and improve efficiency, said Nguyen.


As part of its brand makeover, about a year ago, SSM dropped the word "Care" from its name, changing SSM Health Care, to SSM Health to reflect the expanding scope of its business. For instance, the system has a health plan and pharmacy benefit company. The removal of "Care" also enabled the system to focus on its presence along the entire care continuum, not just in acute care, which the public sees as a flawed system, Nguyen explained. During its rebranding, the system is adding "SSM Health" to all of its facility names.

The former Catholic Health Partners began the public phase of its new brand strategy in July 2014 with a name change to Mercy Health after about a year communicating about the change to employees. The rebranding is centered around Mercy Health's stated goal to keep patients at the center of every action. The intention of the rebranding also is to be responsive to consumer research the provider conducted that showed that people found the health care system confusing and difficult to navigate due to a fractured landscape of visual names and clues. In addition, patients wanted to feel valued, heard and respected by their provider, said Kristen Hall Wevers, Mercy Health's chief brand marketing officer. She said Mercy Health's 23 hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky are aiming to make all decisions based on Mercy Health's promise of making people's lives better. She said the system is doing this in part by providing "promise training" to current and new associates. The training emphasizes that in addition to providing effective, quality treatment, health care is about having a healthy emotional connection with patients and their caregivers.

Reardon said Hospital Sisters Health System's research shows that patients and residents "like knowing that their local facilities have the expertise of a system" to support them.

Lynne Field, a senior strategy director for Monigle Associates, helped orchestrate the CHI rebranding. She said her firm's research and other branding studies back up Reardon's assertion: People like the system connection that providers are now emphasizing and the benefits outweigh any potential downsides. "It's a dramatic change from even seven to 10 years ago," she said. "Before, 'system' meant complexity, but now people like the system connection" because they see the benefits that can come when a facility can draw upon the resources of a large parent company.


Not just a name
The ministry branding experts said for systems to mine the real value of rebranding work they must operationalize "brand promises," a term used to describe what a company stands for and what a consumer can and should expect from every interaction. To deliver on a brand promise, a company has to ensure every employee is delivering on its brand promise.

SSM Health's Nguyen said, "While branding is associated with marketing and communications, it really is the work of every department and every employee." Nguyen chairs a team that coordinates with department heads across SSM Health to determine how to implement the brand. A patient experience team is exploring how to operationalize the brand promise of providing an "exceptional experience" every time people interact with the system. For instance, departments are offering or looking into offering more convenient hours, better appointment scheduling options and same-day test results. All of the changes are based on patient research.

Nguyen said, "The classic health care relationship was directive, with health care providers telling people what to do." Under the rebranded SSM Health, he said, "we wanted to shift from being directive, to collaborative, with engaged patients."

At CHI, the rebranding will include "patient mapping" for select clinical services. Ross explained that this process includes "looking at key touch points (in a patient's and loved one's experience) from the moment a person receives a diagnosis." This includes evaluating how CHI organizations coordinate care, keep patients and loved ones informed, connect patients with specialists, coordinate communication among providers and educate the patient. Mapping is about "planning out the best possible experience for the patient and family," said Ross.

The branding experts who spoke to Catholic Health World said their systems are measuring how well people's experiences align with the brand promises, in part by monitoring the results of patient and associate satisfaction surveys and by periodically conducting new market research.

Like the other ministry brand experts, Ross of CHI said that the rebranding work builds on the strengths of the past, while setting a foundation for the future. "We continue to be true to our heritage and to the vision of our founders — we are a visionary and innovative organization that is about building healthy communities. Our founders would agree we've not just sustained but strengthened CHI for the future."

'Brand promises' focus on patient-centered approach

As part of their rebranding efforts, health systems often develop a "brand promise" that capsulizes findings of brand research they've conducted with patients, employees, physicians and other stakeholders.

Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives' brand promise is "expanding what is possible in achieving optimal health," which inspired its tagline, "Imagine Better Health."

While Springfield, Ill.-based Hospital Sisters Health System does not have a formal brand promise, as part of its identity statement, it commits to "setting new standards for innovative, connected care within our communities … At the same time, putting the patient back at the center of the health care system."

Mercy Health of Cincinnati, promises "to make lives better — mind, body and spirit. To genuinely enjoy being of service. To make health care easier."

And St. Louis-based SSM Health's brand promise is to provide an exceptional experience to everyone who comes into contact with the system.


Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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