Be Connected: Behind-the-scenes with Caitlin McLaughlin, Director of Media Relations, BPHC and Boston EMS
In this edition, Caitlin McLaughlin, Director of Media Relations for the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and Boston Emergency Medical Services (EMS), reveals the secret to managing communication through a crisis, how she’s balancing her work and her well-being (hint: puppies help), and what everyone needs to know in order to stop the spread of Coronavirus.
I just want to begin with a very sincere thank you for doing this, Caitlin. I know your time is precious and I assume you don’t have much to spare these days—but I think this will be a valuable read for our employees, and I appreciate you making it work!
Thank you for asking. I'm flattered and not sure I am worthy of it, but appreciate you asking.
I always love that response because it's what everyone I approach for a behind-the-scenes interview says. That's why you're a perfect candidate!
So, let’s start. What do you do at the City of Boston, and in what circumstances would I come to you for something?
I'm the Director of Media Relations for the Boston Public Health Commission and Boston EMS. I coordinate all media requests for interviews and information and statements. I run our social media accounts for BPHC.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, basically I work to make sure Boston residents know what is happening right now in the City of Boston and how to stay safe and healthy.
And what led you to this career?
Well, I spent 13 years working in television news as a senior news producer, most recently with Boston 25 and WHDH...
I'm glad you answered before I could make a joke about whether you chose this career because you love working with the media.
Haha! I'm grateful for the Boston media's help to keep the public informed with accurate information during the pandemic.
Have you always been interested in public health, or what was your motivation for leaving the television news world to pursue this path?
That's a great question. It sounds silly, but I enjoy helping people and a job in public services seemed like a great fit to continue to do that.
Before COVID-19, I volunteered at Rosie’s Place, serving breakfast and working in the food pantry to assist the wonderful clients there. Now I get to work with our homeless services bureau.
In my last few years of television news, I produced several in-depth shows on a variety of topics, including the alarming cancer rates in the Boston Fire Department, the troubling trend of first responder suicides, the growing opioid epidemic. Now I get to work with first responders every day at Boston EMS, promoting their lifesaving work every day. I also get to highlight the amazing work done by our teams at ORS in this battle in the opioid epidemic.
These are all issues I carry close to my heart.
That doesn't sound silly at all. These are the kinds of stories that make me proud to work with my brothers and sisters in public service!
I can imagine!
Why is effective communication so important to public health?
We are dealing with a situation that we've never seen before in our lifetime. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty right now. I hope that we can help ease some of those fears by providing an accurate picture of what is happening in the City of Boston with COVID-19 and the best ways that people can protect themselves, their family and their community. We want to keep our residents informed so they can help us slow the spread of this virus.
I like to think of it this way, we can provide two things: What is happening right now with the virus in our City? And what does the public need to know to stay safe?
Can you tell us a little bit about your personal experience doing this job over the past few months? I imagine you are fielding a lot of incoming information, and it must be a challenge to process, organize, and distribute it in a timely manner—especially as things change so quickly.
We continue to learn new information about the virus every day and as we’ve seen here in Boston, the situation can change rapidly. Television news is a 24/7 operation, so I am used to working a lot of hours and having to perform in a fast-paced environment where things change quickly. My previous career prepared me to be organized and work effectively and efficiently in tense situations. But you’re only as good as the team you work beside. I’m lucky to have such a great support team at the Mayor’s Press Office, as well as here at EMS and BPHC. I couldn’t do it without them. We’re all in this together, right?
How have you managed to balance your time, prioritize your work, and maintain your well-being through all of this?
I think this year has been a challenge for all of us. I am grateful for my health, my family’s health and a job that keeps me on my toes. Also, I brought home a black lab puppy in August. Her name is Julian or “Jules” after Julian Edelman. There is nothing like a silly, crazy puppy to make you laugh after a long day!
I am SO jealous. Sometimes when I can't sleep and I just need something to browse, I'll just scroll through adoptable dogs on my phone...I've gotten close to pulling the trigger, but I don't think I'm a responsible enough human yet. I have more adulting to do before I take the plunge.
That said, I am pretty stressed this week and I already decided I'm just gonna go sit on a bench down McConnell Park and pet every single dog that walks by me later.
Let me know if you need me to walk Jules over to City Hall!
Oh my god, I will!
In all seriousness, I really like your point about teamwork. It's never been more important to encourage and facilitate cross-departmental collaboration. Is that the key to successful communication with the public during a public health crisis like COVID-19, you think?
I think the key to successful communication is teamwork, leadership, organization, knowledge, creativity and adaptability. But the foundation of it all is teamwork. And we’re lucky to have a team at City Hall and BPHC that is so dedicated and passionate about their work.
We are lucky! And If there’s any silver lining to this nightmare, I think it’s how we’ve all been forced to learn, innovate, collaborate, and execute on a level I never even imagined possible. How do you think this experience has made us improve as a City of Boston team?
I’m a sports fanatic and I think I would best describe it like this: “We’re leaving it all on the field.” With this rapidly changing pandemic, it really requires an all hands-on deck effort. That’s what I’ve been most impressed with… to see firsthand the passion and dedication from the people who work for the City of Boston has been amazing. They’re (I guess I should say we) are working around the clock on the response. Employees are working across departments to problem solve in real time, to create real solutions, and to brainstorm ways to help Boston get to the other side of this crisis. I think this crisis has already made and will continue to make the City of Boston team stronger.
You are speaking my language! Well, I'm laughably ignorant about sports but I used to work in restaurants, and that "all hands-on deck" mentality is ingrained in me. It doesn't matter if you're the Head Chef or the hostess, if it's a busy night and you've got time to hang a jacket or run a dish to a table, you do it. Because at the end of the day, it takes a team effort to do the job right. That's kind of how sports work, right??
Haha yes, exactly! Everyone contributes in their own way.
Something you often hear said is that we are in the “era of misinformation or disinformation”. Do you think that’s true? How do you think we got here?
There has been a lot of mixed messages and misinformation out there about the pandemic. I think it is critical to make sure you’re getting your information from reliable sources, like your local City/town/state leaders and your local health department.
Be careful what you read on social media. Just because it is on the internet doesn't mean it is true. And rely on your trusted local media outlets to give you the correct information. They're our partners in helping get out critical information and updates to the public.
Great advice. What are the biggest things everyone needs to know and do to stop the spread of COVID?
We need everyone to do their part to slow the spread of this virus:
- Get tested
- Wear a face covering in public
- No parties (even small gatherings can lead to exposure)
- Wash your hands
- Stay 6 feet apart
- Stay home if you are sick
If we want to get back to our normal way of life (and I think we all do), then we need everyone's help.
It is so, so important that we keep pushing that message out to folks. But while we do that, it's important to embrace the lighter side of life too...so let's wrap up with the lighting round!
Who's your #1 Boston sports hero?
That's hard to pick. I have to say Tom Brady. He broke my heart when he left for Tampa Bay but I still love the guy so I have to say Tom Brady.
I get that, I get that. I appreciate that everyone still loves him, like now you know that that love was real.
Nuts in brownies — yes or no?
No. But let's be honest, I'd eat them either way.
Since you’re a former TV news producer…choose your fighter: Connie Chung, Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams, or Katie Couric?
You are amazing Caitlin thank you so much! And thank you for all that you do to keep our city safe and healthy.
You’re welcome! And let me know if you need a Jules fix! She's the cutest puppy... I am biased.
Send me puppy pics literally any time. ANY. TIME.
Erin Santhouse joined the City of Boston in 2014 as a scheduler for Mayor Walsh. She is currently a Project Manager for the HR Transformation and the lead content strategist for Be Connected. In lieu of providing further biographical information, she suggests googling “Kelly Kapoor quotes”.