Maintaining Referral Relations During Covid

How To Maintain Referral Relationships During COVID & Beyond Behavioral Health (BH) organizations across the US have rapidly shifted to online therapies whenever feasible, while many RTCs and most inpatient psychiatric hospitals continue delivering face-to-face care. Will BH referral development (RD) and marketing follow this same path with a huge shift to primarily virtual relationship building? Will it be a 50-50 split between on-line and in-person? What are large BH organizations versus small BH organizations doing to pivot to virtual marketing?

To explore these questions and learn current best practices, I reached out to several colleagues to get their insights.

Major Shift to Virtual Sales & Marketing

One of the most remarkable things I heard from a RVP of Business Development, who has 12-18 outreach reps reporting to him was, when I asked him what percentage of his team’s time was now focused on referral development (RD) through social media. He said, “It depended on location, but for major metros, he is guiding his team to spend close to 100% of their time on reaching out to their contacts via social media and other Internet tools.”

Building Confidence & Competence in Virtual Sales & Marketing
Andrew Suma, MS, LPC, Director of Business Development at Acadia Healthcare, had some
great tips for transforming RD to online and increasing team members’ skills in this area.

First, he recommends:
Know each team members’ strengths and weaknesses and play to their strengths. Some people are comfortable with LinkedIn, others Twitter or Instagram. Focus on helping each individual advance their skills in their areas of interest.

Using a variety of training tools to move people from "competence to confidence." He has found that thousands of software companies and vendors provide great YouTube tutorials for free that you can make available to reps versus having to create and deliver these sales trainings on your own.
Thoroughly research new potential referral sources before approaching them.


Approach them in a personalized manner based on this research (e.g., check their Facebook, LinkedIn profile and Google them to find something in common or a mutual interest).
Tap into the gig economy for things you are not good at or don't have time to do. If you have an important goal, such as getting up to speed on EAP or employer referral groups, hire a gig worker to do a “short term” project quickly. Andrew recalled how it would take him 6 weeks to have the time to do the research himself. But, outsourcing it only took a specialized firm a few days and it was very cost effective. Andrew mentioned Upwork and other companies like it can be found at this site .

Creative Ideas Rule
Jean (Willey) Scallon, MA FACHE – Regional Vice-President Operations for Signature Healthcare Services, LLC, has been leading the marketing and sales charge for her 16-hospital system. During their regular marketing and referral development calls, they have created several business and industry playbooks to meet the changing landscape which include both virtual online education and onsite visits.

Steve Jennings, Director of Business Development at Signature Healthcare Services, LLC, was exceedingly resourceful and created a COVID-19 Resiliency and Wellness Resource Guide which is posted on FaceBook and LinkedIn and can be downloaded, free. It contains 4 pages of online resources for families including parenting resources, at home activities, virtual field trips, mindfulness resources, etc. that you can adapt for your community! It is thorough, practical for anyone, and is something which will be referred to multiple times. They also has highly creative and interesting FaceBook posts.

Taking Relationships to a New Level
On the other end of the spectrum, what are small practices and treatment center
with limited resources doing to market their businesses and stay afloat?

  • Jonathan Benz, MS, CASAC, ICADC – Case Manager/Recovery Coach | O’Connor Professional Group, is working the phones. Staying in touch with referents and offering them personalized support during these challenging times has been well received and has taken relationships to a new level of trust and collaboration. Jonathan and other clinicians that run small to medium size practice agree that maintaining a connection virtually can almost be as effective as in-person and be more efficient.
  • I concur, my major strategy for JDi Search and Consulting since March 2020 has been reaching out to my network of past clients and top candidates to see how their doing, offer support and resources.
  • Like Jonathan, I make it a point to find a way to deliver value in every call by offering a tip, a resource, or just being a sounding board and brainstorming solutions, whatever is needed.

I asked one of my candidates for a clinical outreach position in Ohio, how she is going to do this new job during COVID with limited access to hospital-based target markets. Her answer was, "I will find a way to get face to face appointments." She said, “I will go to the hospital cafeterias and can meet doctors or discharge planners there.” Her experience has been that a lot of health care workers love and want the continued personal contact. They want some personal touch and normalcy back in their lives. She just moves her face-to-face meetings to a safe place and practices social distancing.

“Every single person on this planet right now could use some mental health support.”
J. Salima Patel, PhD – co-owner and founder of The Wellness Institute of Florida, a boutique concierge mental healthcare company providing nationwide services, emphasized the importance of connecting for the purpose of connecting – not merely as a means to an end such as business development/referrals. She stressed that, “Every single person on this planet right now could use some mental health support. If marketers can lean into that and make that a priority, there’s plenty of business.”

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