Taking External Affairs to the Next Level

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[author: Amy Murphy Curlis]

Taking External Affairs to the Next Level, Even During Times Of COVID-19 

Amy Murphy Curlis of MVA Public Affairs talks with Marci Wilding, VP of External Affairs at Novant Health

Leading external affairs for any large organization with thousands of employees and customers is complex, and during a pandemic that complexity certainly increases.

Novant Health is a four-state integrated network of physician clinics, outpatient centers and hospitals. The Novant Health network consists of more than 1,600 physicians and over 29,000 team members that provide care at nearly 700 locations, including 15 medical centers and hundreds of outpatient facilities and physician clinics.

Headquartered in Winston–Salem, North Carolina, Novant Health serves more than 5 million patients annually.

While Novant Health continues to be laser focused on testing, treating, and educating patients and communities on COVID-19, they are also continuing to open additional access points for care and introducing innovative new technologies to communities they serve, such as the launch of the nation’s first emergency drone logistics operation by a hospital system.

I sat down (virtually) with Marci Wilding, Vice President of External Affairs of Novant Health, to hear more about how she and her team are continuing to push forward in these unique times.

Amy:  Hi, Marci. Our team in Raleigh works with you on government relations, so I know most about those efforts you lead for Novant Health. Tell me how that fits into your role as VP of External Affairs.

Marci:  Yes, I lead external affairs for Novant Health, which as you mentioned is primarily focused on government relations work on the local, state, and federal levels. In addition to that, my team has expanded its scope to ensure that the externally focused parts of our health system are well connected and aligned. What I mean by that is, we ask ourselves these types of questions:  Where is Novant Health’s perspective and voice needed? Where can we serve our communities best? What boards can our young leaders serve on as they grow professionally? What external groups help impact policies that benefit our patients and communities?    

Amy:  That’s so critical to have that strong alignment across your organization. Kudos to you and the leadership team at Novant for recognizing the importance.

There’s certainly been quite a bit of activity this year – not just with COVID – but let’s start there. How is Novant Health tackling the pandemic? I know you are keenly focused on equity of care for all communities.

Marci:  Novant Health mobilized rapidly to inform, test, and treat communities we serve. Our team immediately set up testing centers, deployed hundreds of thousands of masks into our community, shored up our supply of PPE, and countless other things to keep our patients safe. The work that the frontline healthcare workers have performed over the last several months is just staggering and truly remarkable. I’ve never been prouder to work in healthcare and for an organization like Novant Health.

Amy:  Truly remarkable, indeed. What are you hearing from legislators or the Governor’s office? What do they want to know or how is Novant informing them of your efforts and supplying them with the latest data and activity?

Marci:  It was clear from the beginning of the pandemic that communication was critical. Novant Health leadership has made communication a top priority and my team takes that very seriously. External Affairs immediately set up several mechanisms to inform legislators and other policy makers. And sometimes simple and routine is best. To that end, my team deploys a comprehensive update every two weeks that includes items such as current trends in data, locations to access testing and treatment, clinical trials we are involved in, PPE supply, and many other items. We have also held Zoom delegation meetings to ensure that all levels of government are able to ask our experts any question they may have.  Again, communication is important all the time, but no more so than in a public health emergency.   

Amy:  Back to your organization and alignment internally. Tell me about the “CLEAR” team that I believe Frank Emory, Novant’s Executive Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer, implemented.

Marci:  When Frank joined the Novant Health team at the end of 2018, one of the first things he did was align his senior leadership team around providing the highest level of risk management, ethics, and compliance across all segments of our organization. CLEAR, a loose acronym of our collective departments, includes Compliance, HR, D&I, Legal, External Affairs, Audit and Risk. Together this team serves as a single point for risk assessment and mitigation so that the organization can stay firmly focused on fulfilling its commitment to providing remarkable care to the patients and communities we serve. It’s a unique structure in healthcare, and I feel honored to work with such a passionate and collaborative group of people

Amy: What do you want the people throughout North Carolina and beyond to know about Novant Health?

Marci: That’s a tough question, as there are so many things I would like for people to know. But a few things that immediately come to mind are 1. that Novant Health is committed to transforming healthcare by making it simpler, easier, more convenient and more affordable and 2. that we are committed to everyone, to include our most vulnerable community members.

Before COVID-19 shined a spotlight on health inequities, Novant Health was there for communities in need, helping to close health equity gaps and address social determinants of health. When the COVID-19 crisis is behind us, Novant Health will continue to be there for our communities in need, diligently working to close health equity gaps once and for all.

Amy: Healthcare is such a special place to work in general, and it’s great that at Novant Health you are helping those who are among the most vulnerable across all the communities you serve. Let’s talk about your own journey. You started in DC on Capitol Hill – in national security. So, how did you get into healthcare?

Marci: It has been quite a journey. As you said, I began on Capitol Hill working for the House National Security Committee and then as a defense and foreign affairs advisor to a Member of Congress. Healthcare caught my attention during this time. When it came time to transition off the Hill, I knew I wanted to work in healthcare and began political and government affairs work for the American Nurses Association. After relocating to North Carolina, I continued combining my interest in healthcare and advocacy first with the American Cancer Society and then with the North Carolina State Health Plan before coming to Novant Health 11 years ago. It’s been a ride, and I would not trade one moment of it. 

Amy: Through that impressive journey, has there been anyone who was a major influence for you?

Marci: There have been many influences throughout my career. I would probably call out specifically that Member of Congress I mentioned earlier. What I respected so much about him was how purposefully focused he was on constituent services. My “constituents” have changed over the years, but I have always brought that customer service mindset to my work. I want to be a resource for others. 

Amy:  Final question for you, Marci. What advice do you have for others – your peers and/or those who are aspiring to lead the type of external affairs work that you do?

Marci:  Work in different parts of government or at least learn as much as you can about all levels of government and those policy influencers all around us. I personally found it very advantageous to have worked in government on both the federal and state level. 

Amy:  Marci, thank you again. You are doing tremendous work at Novant Health, and we at MVA Public Affairs appreciate the opportunity to work alongside you and support all your external affairs and government relations goals.

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MVA Public Affairs represents clients that bring expertise to a wide range of industries. These timely conversations with business leaders offer insights into the ways they are adapting to unique challenges, addressing key issues, or leading their teams to achieve organizational goals.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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