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Pennie Rorex: Getting the message out

POSTED January 28, 2013 12:08 p.m.

Keeping a community healthy involves doctors, nurses and hospital employees of all kinds working together for the wellbeing of each and every patient.

It also takes communication; internal communication between healthcare professionals and communication with the community at-large.

"It's important to deliver a message to all audiences and deliver it consistently," said Pennie Rorex, assistant vice president of corporate communication and marketing for Emanuel Medical Center. "In our marketing we can say everything we want about Emanuel, but if it wasn't executed internally by staff...then we would have a clash of the message. They all go hand-in-hand."

Rorex is an expert in healthcare communication. She has been affiliated with Emanuel since 1994, and she started her career in the late 1980s as a legislative assistant to former State Senator Dan McCorquodale with the responsibility of researching healthcare and substance abuse issues for the senator. During her 25-plus year career, Rorex has seen a multitude of changes in healthcare — with differing communication needs.

"I've seen so many changes in the kind of message we are delivering since I've been in a healthcare communications career," said Rorex.

When she started in healthcare public relations, hospitals were reaching out to doctors and individual patients asking them to select Emanuel as their hospital of choice. Then health maintenance organizations came onto the scene and patients could only go to hospitals in their individual HMO plans; and the hospital was paid a specific amount of money for the year to care for each patient whether they had a chronic illness, broke a bone, or were not seen at all.

"We started communicating in a different way... at that point our focus in hospital

 marketing was to focus on wellness — walking programs and dancing programs and heart healthy cooking, we developed a vibrant and active community health program," Rorex said.

Now, the healthcare pendulum is swinging again.

"Healthcare is this very interesting, complex puzzle and it's ever changing... we're right on the heels of healthcare reform. A lot is still unknown about healthcare reform; we've all been planning ahead, but there's still a lot unknown. The complexity is what the challenge is."

Rorex thrives on the challenge and has received numerous accolades and honors for her work in crisis communication and public relations. When she started her career in the late 1980s, however, women in business and government relations were not that common. Despite her trailblazing career path, she can only remember one instance of gender inequality.

"When I was in the Legislature, in the early 80s things were beginning to change for women in business. I vividly remember while working for Dan McCorquodale, I was responsible for healthcare and substance abuse issue areas. He was invited to speak at Kiwanis in Modesto and talk about substance abuse and legislation and I went because I did the research and prepared his speech," Rorex said.

"I didn't know until the event was over that it was an all-male club at the time. They pulled him aside and said I would have to wait outside.  He said if my staff member has to leave, I do too.

It was the only time in my career that I ever felt different as a woman."

Rorex is not only a local public relations expert, she's also been a long-time mentor for communications students and young professionals.

"Until this semester, I've had an intern in my department for as many years back as I can remember," and the advice she gives these public relations novices: "Any intern I've talked to in the last two years, I say learn all you can about social media. It is definitely here to stay and a vital part of what we do.

"Stay current. I remember when I'd take press releases, print them out, fold them up and send them out. I remember while working at Emanuel and we got this thing called a fax machine, but you had to send one at a time. Then the technology improved and you had auto-dial. Now we rarely use a fax machine; now it's an email. Where it's 24 to 48 hours in snail mail... 30 press releases are out in one second (with email). The tech has changed so much in this industry since I've been here, but the amount of time when a response is needed has also changed drastically, like in crisis communication. My advice: stay current in technology."


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