Special Assistance Programs: A Look at Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation’s Ambassador Program
Allison Meilicke, BSN, RN, Director and Tagen Vine, President
By Allison Meilicke, BSN, RN, Director – Ambassador Program, Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation and Tagen Vine, President, Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation
Concierge and special assistance programs allow hospitals to provide elevated service to highly engaged donors. At Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation in Kalispell, Montana, a special assistance office and ambassador roles have been established with positive results.
The program was primarily established and directed toward major gifts donors and prospects identified by board members and administration. One major aspect of this concierge program is the Special Assistance Office and its accompanying card for VIP patients.
The Special Assistance Card
The Kalispell Special Assistance program includes a 24/7 nurse call number, on which experienced RNs answer the line and help facilitate patient requests. A special assistance card includes phone numbers for the special assistance office and its staff, all of whom are RNs or M.D.s. The card is given to new people in the community invited by Board Members to have lunch with our CEO, and it is handed out during the hospital’s "home-hosted events."
Updated cards are sent out annually and define why and how a card holder might use the "Special Assistance" card. For example, the Special Assistance Office would not interpret bills or answer questions about billing, but if a donor calls, this position would ensure the Director of Patient Access calls the donor back.
Card holders are also encouraged to call if they are headed to the Emergency Department (ED). The Special Assistance Office sends the ED pertinent information about the patient, such as name, date of birth, chief complaint, a brief medical history and an estimated time of arrival, which helps the ED place “incoming” patients.
About 40 percent of the Special Assistance Office’s time is spent assisting patients with scheduling general physician and sub-specialty physician appointments. Frequently, it can be four to six weeks to obtain an appointment with primary care doctors or sub-specialists. Receptionists sometimes “guard” physicians’ schedules and may be hesitant to give out “the last remaining” appointment time. The Special Assistance Office facilitates scheduling so a patient who urgently needs to see a sub-specialist will have an appointment in a timely manner. The office gathers information and evaluates if there is a medical condition or symptoms that might call for a patient to be seen more promptly. Having someone in this position with a medical and/or nursing background makes requests much more credible to the receptionist.
Once the patient is at the hospital, the ambassador notifies the house supervisor or the house float to see if they can round on a “friend of the foundation,” who may be either waiting for a room or already in a room. It can be very reassuring to the patient to have someone check in on them. As ambassador, I may meet someone in the ED and stay with them, making sure they understand what is going on and explaining any testing or procedures. There are also many conditions that will not allow for immediate treatment in the ED, and the ambassador can help notify the patient of the wait at the ED and talk the patient through other options, such as nearby urgent cares.
The Director of the Ambassador Program Role
The Director of the Ambassador Program is “responsible for development and maintenance of positive relationships and communication with major gift donors and prospects of the foundation, volunteers, community leaders, ambassadors and benefactors.” Her job description also states that she “develop strategies and plans which identify opportunities for the foundation.”
It is mandatory for the role that the staff person at Kalispell have a current Montana RN license. The current ambassador, Allison Meilicke, has been an RN for 30 years and holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Nonprofit Management. Because this role fields questions from both donors and prospects as well as from nurses and physicians, it is helpful to establish this role at a manager or director level within the organization. At Kalispell, the ambassador is part of the management team and is invited to the hospital’s Management Council. Both her position and her experience encourages hospital personnel to see her as a peer, increasing the likelihood they will have a conversation about the patient with the foundation.
Results of the Ambassador Program
“The assistance we provide to these donors, and potential donors, is truly appreciated. We help them, and when we ask them for their help they express their gratitude for the assistance they have received from our office. We know if we take care of them they will take care of us,” says Tagen Vine, the foundation’s president. This program helps build relationships and trust, and clients feel a sense of connection.
The foundation, which opened in 2001, recently completed the first significant capital campaign in its history. The foundation credits the success of the campaign to the relationships its staff have built through the home-hosted socials and CEO luncheons, during which new ambassadors were provided with the Special Assistance Card. The majority of the participants never use the card, but knowing they have access is appreciated. The community has many seasonal residents who do not know the system and may not have a primary care physician. The Special Assistance Card helps them connect within the health care system.