The Purcell Hospital Campaign

I think we can all agree that hospitals are an important public utility, but we don’t often think about how the loss of one can mean the beginning of a whole town’s downfall. When people feel far from emergency services, they begin to leave – and when people leave, the community support systems we depend on start to erode. School systems, neighborhoods, public services and the economy all begin to weaken, driving even more people away.

These all are things we learned in June, when STAPLEGUN was asked to contribute to a team dedicated to saving Purcell Municipal Hospital. It sounded like a tall order, but we knew we could lend a hand.

First, some background. Due to a decrease in federal reimbursement that began in 2009, Purcell’s hospital was going to be short on the funding needed to keep it up and running. Luckily, city residents could vote to save it by implementing a penny tax on sales made in the city. The tax would be minimal – $1 on every $100 purchased – but it certainly was a hot topic, given differences in political beliefs.

After conducting some research, we realized we were being presented with a potentially life-or-death situation. If Purcell Municipal Hospital were to close, the closest facility, Norman Regional Hospital, would be 20 miles away – meaning every stroke, heart attack, overdose or concussion victim would have to suffer through 30 minutes of traffic driving north on I-35.

But where do we begin in swaying political beliefs and opinions? It’s no secret that Facebook is an outlet for sharing opinions on the upcoming elections, hot topics and articles. So, we reasoned, why should this instance be any different? Our plan of action was to start a conversation about the issue, then stand back and let the Purcell audience decide what was right for the city.

Using Facebook, we created Friends in Support of Purcell Hospital, a page dedicated to the cause. Instead of giving users months to see our ads urging them to vote, we created eight posts to run over a two-week span. All of our images carried a call to action urging viewers to “Vote Yes,” constantly reminding audience members this was an issue they had the ability to vote on. The posts themselves promoted Purcell Municipal Hospital’s value propositions, and they offered a frank look at what Purcell would be like without the hospital. In addition to lives potentially being lost, the hospital is the city’s second-largest employer – 147 people would be out of work.

The results were considerable. In just two weeks, we received 3,427 engagements (likes, comments, reactions, etc.). This might not seem like much, but when you consider that Purcell has just over 6,000 residents, it’s pretty extraordinary. Our first post alone reached roughly 25,900 users and generated 991 engagements, 341 shares and 78 comments – and that’s not including the comments we received on the posts users shared. Not bad.

In the end, the poll results were overwhelming: 987 yes votes to 142 no votes, or 87 percent in favor.

The lesson we took away was simple: With the right messaging and intelligent targeting, a small budget can go a long way.

Of course, we can’t take full credit for saving the hospital, but we’re damn proud to have had a hand in doing what we could – and we’re humbled by the opportunity.