Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Hospital offers quick service - or lunch

By Tim Bonfield, tbonfield@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a city where many people wait hours for hospital emergency care, one hospital is promising to buy lunch for patients who wait longer than 20 minutes.

        From billboards scattered around town and through thousands of direct mail promotions, Deaconess Hospital promises a “20-minute maximum wait (for) adolescent and adult healthcare... or we'll buy lunch!”

        So far, the hospital has kept its pledge without buying any lunches, says Barbara Lohr, the hospital's director of corporate marketing.

        “We're not experiencing the same overcrowding that other hospitals have had,” Ms. Lohr said.

        Deaconess Hospital, located in University Heights, is one of the few independent hospitals in Cincinnati. Its advertising campaign is unusual, not just because of the bold promise, but also because Deaconess has maintained a low public profile for years.

        “We have a very understated facility here,” Ms. Lohr said. “We've actually been offering this for two or three years, but we've never promoted it.”

        Deaconess sees about 10,000 emergency visits a year. By comparison, Bethesda North Hospital, one of the Tristate's busiest emergency departments, treats more than 46,000 people a year.

        Deaconess promises a gift certificate to an area restaurant if treatment does not begin within 20 minutes of arrival.

        The free lunch policy does not apply to those patients who never get to Deaconess because an ambulance has been diverted to another hospital. Since May 2001, Deaconess went on diversion 39 times, including three times this year, according to the Greater Cincinnati Health Council.

        A diversion means that a hospital has asked area life squads to attempt to take all but the most unstable patients elsewhere for all or part of an eight-hour shift.

        Similar quick-service promotions have been offered by hospitals in Baltimore, Dearborn, Mich., and New Jersey, Ms. Lohr said. But here, the effort is viewed mostly as a gimmick that will be unlikely to inspire competing efforts from other hospitals.

        “I think it's an interesting campaign. But it's not something we would try to do. We focus more on other issues,” said Gail Myers, spokeswoman for the Health Alliance.


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