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Recovery and reform

University of Texas Medical Branch: Caring for the underserved

Published: 26 Jul 2011

Recovery and reform

The UTMB Multi-Share Plan helps small businesses provide health care coverage for employees.

Client: The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston

Agency: gabbegroup

Campaign: UTMB: Caring for the underserved

Timescale: 2009 to ongoing

A quick look

In 2008, the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston was fighting to survive after being devastated by Hurricane Ike. This damage included the loss of its emergency room and top-ranked Level 1 Trauma Center, forcing thousands of patients to use other hospitals statewide. gabbegroup initiated an ongoing effort to raise national awareness of UTMB’s community programs for underserved patients, all of which remained operational despite Ike. Through traditional and social media efforts, gabbegroup demonstrated how these model programs could inform national health reform, while also underscoring UTMB’s significant contributions to the local community and state. The campaign resulted in 38.3m media impressions, which UTMB leveraged to secure much-needed funding.


In September 2008, the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston was nearly obliterated by Hurricane Ike. It was hit with nearly $1b in damages, including the loss of its Level 1 Trauma Center. With global financial chaos striking simultaneously, the future of the 120-year-old institution was unclear. As UTMB fought to survive, it redoubled efforts to sustain its many programs designed to care for the most vulnerable patients – now larger in number and in even greater need.

UTMB and gabbegroup worked to raise awareness of its innovative programs designed to meet the needs of the underserved, chronically ill and disenfranchised. Regionally, the hospital sought to emphasize its importance to the local communities and the state. Nationally, gabbegroup demonstrated how the programs could be replicated and adapted to help address persistent healthcare issues.

The campaign coincided with media coverage dominated by the financial crisis and health reform, making it a 'crowded' space. Further, health reform coverage was largely focused on broad-scale issues and solutions, leaving little room for smaller, grassroots programs.


gabbegroup spotlighted how UTMB’s programs were relevant at the national level and could be adapted by other communities. At the same time, the campaign called attention to UTMB’s crucial role in caring for Texas’ most vulnerable patients.

The campaign touched on a range of issues: helping small businesses provide health insurance; supplying free care to the nation’s poorest communities; reducing emergency room visits by teaching patients to manage chronic illnesses; and addressing mental health issues in adolescents via a school-based telemedicine program. It embedded media materials with links to video, blogs and interviews and also used social media tools like Facebook and Twitter.


The campaign achieved approximately 38.3m media impressions via high-profile placements in such outlets as The Wall Street Journal, WNYC/New York Public Radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show, American Profile magazine (distributed in community newspapers nationwide), and the internationally syndicated television program Teen Kids News, among others. The coverage helped raise UTMB’s leadership profile, supporting its case to the state legislature and major donors for funding to save the institution and sustain these programs.

Client verdict

"When UTMB was reeling and uncertain if it would survive, the outreach campaign enabled us to tell a positive story. The resulting media coverage marked an important psychological turning point: they were the first stories in months that did not mention Hurricane Ike, a source of great institution-wide pride at an especially difficult time," said Chris Comer, Vice President, UTMB Office of Public Affairs

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