October 31, 2023
I could write this one without notes. Later, I’ll let you know how I did.
Next week’s blog is on a special TV series that aired on 2 local television stations in October. It needs a lead-in.
The series is subtitled “Cancer: Choices, Hope and Science.”
Four episodes aired during the month, all featuring powerful stories of patients and their journeys to conquer a cancer diagnosis at The University of Kansas Health System. We started to bill this as “every Tuesday in October!” and then, of course, there were 5 Tuesdays in October 2023. So, most of the Tuesdays in October.
Viewers of KCTV5 in Kansas City and WIBW-TV 13 in Topeka saw stories about a professional pitcher leaving the mound to donate bone marrow to his sister, women fighting breast cancer, men fighting prostate cancer and a baby fighting for her very life.
If “Cancer: Choices, Hope and Science” is the subtitle, what could the main title be? Why, none other than “Morning Medical Update.” Or MMU, as we call it around here.
How the show began
If that rings a bell, that’s good. You’re one of many people who clung to the words of 2 physicians at the health system at the start of and throughout COVID-19. And if you don’t know the story, it’s worth retelling.
As the pandemic broke out in 2020, The University of Kansas Health System became a regional leader in responding to the crisis. I didn’t work here at the time, so I can get away with saying “the” leader without beating my chest. It was clear to this “man on the street” the health system was becoming the voice. Unfortunately, it was also becoming the place where so many COVID-19 victims came to be treated. More survived than didn’t, but they were desperate times.
So many questions, so many deaths, so many fears. And so many media inquiries.
My friend and now colleague Jill Chadwick, health system director of media relations, spent more than a decade seemingly getting ready for what happened next. Jill’s a former TV news director, anchor and reporter. She grew up in farm country and handles big city news like a pro. She’s turned our media and video team into a mini-television newsroom, including a real-life studio thanks to the generosity of the Dolph C. Simons Family, who it’s named after.
“Honestly, I couldn’t be prouder of this team and what they do,” Jill told me. “It’s important work, and we’ve learned that from the community response that feels like a warm hug every weekday morning at 8 a.m.”
The team, which has now won 3 regional Emmy awards, facilitated interviews with executives and staff, conducted interviews remotely and hosted programs for employees and the public on health system news. Jill even created the Medical News Network to distribute content to media outlets across the nation.
At this pandemic’s start, the health system was already considered the lead on health information, and reporters wanted to talk to our doctors every day, every hour, every minute. Given the restrictions on entering the building, they had to come up with something. So, the group hatched an idea to put a couple of physicians on the set in the studio and transmit it live every morning at 8 a.m. First on Facebook Live, then later on YouTube.
They called it the “Morning Media Update.”
It had the desired effect and more. Reporters called in daily to get COVID-19 statistics. How many admissions, how many in ICU, how many on ventilators? And … how many deaths?
Honestly, I couldn’t be prouder of this team and what they do. It’s important work and we’ve learned that from the community response that feels like a warm hug every weekday morning at 8 a.m.” Jill Chadwick, News Director, Medical News Network
Evolution of a fan favorite
As the worst of the pandemic started to wane, the show became its own thing. Frankly, it turned our chief medical officer, Steven Stites, MD, into a local TV star, along with his “co-anchor,” Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control. (The fact his nickname is “Hawkeye” is a bonus).
Now, 3 years later, the show is still on Facebook and YouTube. We’re still treating patients with COVID-19, but the pandemic phase has passed. Dr. Stites gives the current lay of the land and makes Star Trek references and corny jokes, Dr. Hawkinson updates viewers with any infectious disease trends and Jill’s team produces the highest quality stories on medical procedures and health system news – everything from the new cancer center building campaign to our 25th anniversary as an independent authority to our official healthcare provider status with the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals.
The project went from acute to chronic. Chronically good. They tweaked the name for the duration: the “Morning Medical Update.”
(By the way, I haven’t looked up while writing this. So far, no notes.)
And so far, so great for MMU. It’s a valuable asset to the community and an unbelievable resource to the nearly 17,000 employees who make up The University of Kansas Health System now.
Today, we’re hitting the airwaves and not just streaming. Jill Chadwick’s team produced those 4 cancer stories that aired on local CBS affiliates, taking the MMU name and the health system’s story to even more eyeballs. Here’s the link again to the episodes. In my next blog, we’ll go deeper.
These stories are so good, you’ll remember them to share with your friends and family. Right off the top of your head.