The New York University Langone Medical Center, in seeking a replacement for the retiring VP for communications and PA Deborah Bohren, has changed the job title to VP, communications and marketing.

The 20 pages of specs being circulated by search firm Witt/Kieffer (PDF) mention “advertising, marketing and branding” before PR is named.

“Internal” responsibilities are repeatedly mentioned ahead of “external” responsibilities. The new person is supposed to be “politically savvy both inside and outside the organization.” We don’t doubt that.

This document is testimony to PR’s low standing in corporations and institutions. If followed, the new VP will do little to help NYULMC’s current PR disaster brought about by its mistreatment of 12-year-old Rory Staunton, who died April 1.

Says the cliché-ridden summary for the job: “The VP of communications and marketing is responsible for the development and implementation of research-based, strategically driven internal and external communications programs that optimize NYULMC’s relationship with the entire range of its constituents: faculty, staff, board, donors, influencers, referring physicians, and patients, current and future.”

Adjectives such as “world class” and “state-of-the-art” are used. “Strategic” is sprinkled liberally throughout.

Notice what is last on this list—“patients.”

Marketing’s emphasis, as noted by a June 17 New York Times story by Natasha Singer titled “You for Sale,” is on demographics. She lists more than 70 traits clocked by marketers such as income, age, occupation down to “vegetarian” and “new mover.” Marketers are not typically interested in discussing issues with reporters.

Thirty-three different duties are listed for the new VP including working closely with more than 50 medical centers and the chairs; the faculty of 29 academic departments; managing ad agencies, being on the “senior leadership team,” and supervising 23 PR pros operating with a $14 million budget.

Eleven desirable personal characteristics are listed such as “exceptional judgment and maturity,” “emotionally intelligent,” “high-energy,” “good listener,” “well-developed sense of humor,” and “unflagging attention to detail.”

The Specs Are Backwards

Ken Langone
There is no mention in the specs of the duties of such major NYULMC figures as board chairman Kenneth Langone, who donated $200 million to the hospital that is now named after him, nor dean and CEO Dr. Robert I. Grossman.

The fate of the hospital’s reputation in the light of the bungled treatment of Staunton rests with those two and not a new VP.

PR cannot function if it cannot deliver chairs and CEOs to the press both in open press conferences and in one-on-one interviews. If the President of the U.S. confronts the press this way there is no excuse for other people in power to dodge that.

Jim Dwyer’s July 12 article in the New York Times drew 1,659 comments before it was closed on July 17. One of the comments was a shorter version of this reporter’s blog about my visit to the ER with a kidney stone.

My advice to NYU is to tell the new VP not to show up at the hospital until he or she has spent a month with relevant press such as Dwyer, staffers at ProPublica, Staunton family, etc. Schmoozing with all the personages at NYU is not going to do the hospital’s image any good.

Dwyer accuses NYU of improperly invoking “confidentiality” in relation to this incident. There is “no law” against NYU discussing its general procedures about how lab results are handled when a patient has left the hospital, and what blood values are considered alarming,” he wrote.

Medical Horror Stories Sought

ProPublica, which had $10.2 million in revenues in 2010, up from $6.3M in the previous year, is wading into this fray.

The investigative group posted an initial article July 20 headlined

“Why Medicine Can’t Seem to Fix Simple Mistakes.” It was picked up by numerous media including Huffpost Healthy Living.

ProPublica not only described a number of medical mistakes such as operations on wrong body parts and repeated violations by hospitals including NYU, it provides a link to a form asking readers to report problems with doctors and hospitals.

Says the form: “It’s estimated that millions of Americans have suffered avoidable infections and injuries in medical facilities” and asks for detailed descriptions of mistreatment so that “we can bring much needed accountability to the medical system.”

Respondents are promised confidentiality.

A ProPublica Patient Harm Facebook group has been opened at

This only scratches the surface of the negative news flow that is coming in the wake of the Staunton case. It may be the “Three Mile Island” of ER treatment. PR bungling after the 1979 TMI nuclear accident resulted in massive distrust of nuclear regulators and operators. No nuclear plants were ordered after that.

Medical Establishment Slow to Change

ProPublica raps hospitals in general for being “slow” to adopt new procedures.

A Los Angeles County health official, frustrated by continued abuses at one hospital, told ProPublica: “You can yell, scream, jump up and down, but things don’t seem to change.”

ProPublic said “At times our own reporting has left us dumbfounded that easy-to-follow solutions—and the media’s hot spotlight—have not kept patients from harm.”

Those who use ERs frequently say the treatment process can be speeded up if patients carry on themselves at all times lists of medications they are taking and the dosages; dates and descriptions of any surgeries; allergies of any type, and lists of all their doctors including regular phone, cell phone, e-mails and faxes.

The ER that I experienced July 10 was over-organized. Staffers wear about five different colors of uniform to signify duties. Each must stay in his or her own groove.

For instance, I waited about an hour and a half to see a second administrator who took down prescriptions being used, allergies, previous surgeries and other info.

This process took 15-20 minutes for some patients who may have known their drugs but not the dosages or who lacked other information.

I could imagine a situation where doctors and nurses were waiting idly for patients who were in a logjam with the initial interviewer.

There should be other workstations so that nurses or others could pitch in with information gathering.

Doctors who send patients to the ER should call the ER and offer their diagnoses as well as the need for immediate treatment if that is the case. Some doctors do not provide patients with their e-mails and almost never with their personal phone numbers. Faulty communications is at the root of the tragedy of Rory Staunton.

Garden School has $2M Debt

Garden School
Little has been written thus far about the Garden School, Jackson Heights, where the accident took place.

The school has been involved in a controversy with local residents because it proposed to solve its $2 million debt by selling a playground to a developer who would build a high-rise apartment. Tuition was hiked to $15,500 from nursery to grade ten resulting in a drop in enrollment from 330 in 2009 to 240 for the 2010-11 school year.

The city in March agreed to buy the land for $6 million for use as a public park. An initial offer of $4.8M by the city had been rejected.

Dwyer’s July 19 story said it was “most likely” that the fatal bacteria got into Staunton’s blood from the gym floor.

“Mr. D, the athletic director put the Band-Aids on,” Staunton told his father, according to the Dwyer report This raises the question of whether the wound was treated properly. Flance Dervishi is athletic director. Garden School also has a registered nurse.