Delicate PR operation supports transplant

MIAMI: Good news at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital (JMH) last

week presented major challenges for the hospital's 12-person PR

staff.



After a Chicago hospital refused to treat 11-year-old Ana Esparza

because she was uninsured and could not afford a necessary liver

transplant, doctors at JMH agreed to perform the life-saving

procedure.



Conchita Ruiz Topinka, JMH's director public affairs and communications,

said she was careful not to disparage the Chicago hospital, and instead

took the opportunity to educate the media about JMH's mission. As a

safety net provider, the hospital treats the poor and underinsured,

representing $325 million in charity care each year.



However, Topinka said she was concerned the local community would be

angered that JMH had gone beyond its regional needy base to provide a

discounted service for someone from another state.



"We emphasized that this girl and her family had raised money and put

forth a lot of effort," said Topinka, who began working with hospital

administrators before Esparza was even admitted as a patient. "From the

very beginning, we wanted to stay on-message that she was going to bring

some money to the table and would continue to raise money."



Topinka said she also felt it important to pay homage to the Chicago

family that donated the liver, partly in order to promote JMH's

organ-donor program. She said that JMH performed 370 transplants in

2000.



The PR team split the different aspects of the case, with Topinka

handing the financial PR issues and PR staffer Omar Montero working on

clinical news.



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