A hospital district has spent $570,000 on an ad campaign launched two weeks after its board called for a nearly $1 billion bond election.
The taxpayer-funded advertising campaign is running at the same time a separate, political group pushing for passage of the bond proposal launches a nearly $800,000 television ad campaign.
Included in the tax-funded ad campaign are a series of television commercials that promote areas of the Maricopa County Medical Center the bond proposal promises to improve. The advertisements don’t mention Proposition 480, the Nov. 4 election or advocate for a vote, any of which would be illegal.
The advertisements feature testimonials of people with real-life experience in the county’s mental health system and burn unit, and feature doctors who work in the trauma center and in the residency program.
Mike Robertson, senior vice president of marketing and public affairs for Maricopa Integrated Health System, said the ad campaign was not designed to win votes.
“What you’re seeing is me fulfilling my responsibility of getting a communication campaign out there to start educating Maricopa County residents with regards to what we do, and this is but chapter one,” said Robertson, who joined MIHS in March.
The political ad features Bryan Jeffries, president of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona, a firefighters union, stumping for a yes vote to improve the trauma center, burn center and mental-health system. A voice-over says the Maricopa Medical Center is where first responders are taken when they are injured. Other than that, however, there is no mention of the hospital or the proposed $541 million to $548 million reconstruction of it.
The MIHS board unanimously approved putting the public financing on the ballot May 28. The $935 million in financing, which will cost the owner of a $150,000 home about $18 per year, would pay for a new, scaled-down Maricopa County Medical Center, an improved mental-health system, improved neighborhood clinics and upgrades to the hospital’s nationally renowned Arizona Burn Center and the hospital’s trauma center.
Kevin McCarthy, executive director of Arizona Tax Research Association, the leading foe of the bond proposal, said he questions the timing of the image-building campaign, and he pointed out that it involves Integrated Web Strategy, a company that has been paid $23,144 for services on the Yes on 480 campaign.
McCarthy said anyone outside looking in will doubt MIHS’s explanation that there is no connection between the branding campaign and they Yes on 480 campaign.
Robertson said Integrated Web Strategy, which has a contract to manage the district’s website, had no direct involvement on the taxpayer-funded ad campaign, even though the company received roughly $180,000 a month from MIHS since June.
Robertson said Integrated sub-contracted with Torres Marquez Communications, and Integrated simply served as a pass-through for the money that was paid.
Robertson said he developed the campaign with the help of Torres Marquez.
“I’m focused on telling our story. I have no connect with what’s happening in the November election,” Robertson said.
The district, which is budgeted for a $17.2 million deficit in fiscal-year 2015, launched the “MIHS Image Campaign” on June 16. Ads ran on 18 television stations, 18 radio stations, billboards and print publications and directed viewers to a website that had longer versions of the television ads.
For example, one of the spots featured Tiara Del Rio and Beau Zimbro, a Peoria couple who survived a house blast in October 2013.
Each was burned over 50 percent of their bodies and doctors at the burn unit were able to get permission from the federal government to use an experimental procedure on Del Rio, according to news reports.
The spot begins with the couple side-by-side and graphics stating, “They arrived without hope” and “They left with a life full of hope” before they launch into their story.
“I feel very lucky to live in Arizona and you never know when a tragedy like that is going to happen in your life and to have that great of a burn center that local, it saved our lives,” Zimbro said.
The MIHS image campaign is running at the same time as a $752,250 television buy by the Yes On 480 campaign.
The ad buy involves nearly all of the campaign’s cash on hand based on its Sept. 25 report.
So far, the political campaign has collected roughly $975,000, the bulk of which came from doctors who work at the hospital and construction companies.
Campaign spokesman Chip Scutari said in an email that the “rightsizing” of the hospital is not mentioned in the ads because there wasn’t enough room and because the issue has been discussed in media interviews, in the Voter’s Publicity Pamphlet and on the campaign’s website. Right-sizing is business parlance for making a company smaller and more efficient. Scutari said the ads mention the many benefits of the proposal.
“We can only fit so much information into our ads,” he said.