Dana Benton Long

Dana Benton Long, left, receives the 2019 Ambassador of the Year award from the Denton Chamber of Commerce. Also shown are Jeff Bowerman, center, and Cole Frazier.

After retrieving her camera from the bottom drawer of her walnut desk, Dana Benton Long leaves her office at Medical City Denton headed toward the elevators. On the fifth floor, hospital CEO Steven Edgar and other staff members plan to sing “Happy Birthday” to a patient celebrating her 90th birthday.

The pictures and videos will then be edited and added to social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Long monitors four social media platforms daily. Tasks like this make the job all the more worth it for Long, Medical City Denton’s community and public relations officer.

Before discovering her place in the field of medical/health care communications, Long spent 18 years in telecommunications, two years in banking and finance, and close to eight years working with the University of North Texas System. She has 35 years of experience in the communications industry. In the beginning of her career, she was more committed to the profession of public relations rather than the type of organization.

“I have enjoyed being in health care a lot more than I expected. I really like working with the patients, especially in the community that I’m committed to,” Long said.

As a Denton native, she knows the city, people and culture like the back of her hand. Long grew up in a time when there was only one high school in the area.

She then went on to graduate from North Texas State University in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a concentration in public relations. She received her master’s degree in journalism with a focus on public relations and marketing from UNT in 1992. After working other jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Long returned “home” to serve the community she knows and loves.

Have a heart

Denton has a small-town feel to Long, and she is often notified when a familiar face or one of their family members is checked in. Going above and beyond her job description, she will leave her office to tend to what are considered the little things — something as small as getting an iPad out of a car or sitting with a patient so that they are a little less lonely. These small acts of commitment make a world of a difference for the patients at Medical City Denton. A small heart pin graces Long’s employee name tag as a badge of honor. This comes as a result of those small touches and represent her commitment to the people the hospital serves.

The heart pin is a form of employee recognition at Medical City Denton. Roughly 23 heart pins have been distributed this year, and more than 200 have been given since the tradition began in 2017. This pin recognizes the hard work and caring nature of the staff. Nominations can be made by other staff members, patients or the family of the patients under the hospital’s care.

Long was nominated for her heart pin after leaving a lasting impression on William Colville Jr. He stayed at the hospital by his father’s side while Colville Sr. was in hospice care, and Long would often check on both of them. When Colville’s father passed, the son made a Facebook post praising the care the hospital had provided him and his family in their time of need.

“There is a difference between someone trained to do a job and someone who has a calling to do that job,” Colville Jr. wrote. Long was one of the four employees mentioned by name in the post. “Dana Benton Long who came frequently to check on him, thank you,” he wrote.

Although she is viewed as an important part of the team and an asset, Long isn’t in contact with the patients as often as the nurses are. As a young professional, she once asked why no one from public relations ever got honored.

A former boss responded to her, “Dana, that’s just your job. Just because you do your job, it doesn’t call for recognition.” This makes her heart pin all the more special.

Building bridges

Long’s job requires her to respond to crisis situations differently than her peers. Serving more behind the scenes than on the front line, her role is to ensure that crisis situations on the hospital campus are handled smoothly. Whether lending a hand while Hurricane Harvey patients were being helicoptered in or directing traffic, Long has been described by co-workers as a positive, dedicated and giving team player.

“It’s not her job to check in on patients or to jump in areas of the hospital that aren’t her realm,” says Randy Sachs, a friend and director of marketing and communications at Medical City North Hills. “She’s really dedicated not only to her projects but the organization as well.”

“I’m a bridge builder,” Long says. “I like forming bridges and networks to enable different groups to achieve whatever vision they’re looking to attain.”

According to its website, Medical City Denton’s vision is to be the destination of choice for health care excellence. One of the most important bridges Long builds to accomplish this is with the hospital’s emergency department.

“She just keeps us on track,” says Emergency Department administrator Sheri Wyser. “If I need something from her for the ER, she does her best to get it for me.”

The best example of her assistance during a crisis took place when a police detective was rushed through the hospital’s doors.

Officer down

In 2017, Little Elm police detective Jerry Walker was shot and rushed to Medical City Denton. In the midst of this crisis, Long had to care for the detective’s family and craft statements with other public information officers while standing in the rain after her normal shift had ended. Despite being soaked and having a dead mobile phone, Long ended up directing traffic and responding to local media.

As the reporters rushed to cover the story, Long ensured that they kept a certain distance from the hospital to protect the victim’s and family’s privacy. When other first responders arrived to check on their fellow comrade, they left their cars in areas that blocked traffic. Noticing how this interrupted the flow for others needing care, Long led patients to the doors ensuring they would be tended to.

A year later, after Walker’s death, Long assisted with a memorial service. During this service, a plaque was created for an ER room in his honor. Long wrote a story with photographs covering the service for the hospital’s newsroom.

Long describes the incident as an emotional one for everyone, but a learning one for her. If she were to do it over again, she said she would seek more support and help.

Looking forward

Continuing to serve in a job that she is passionate about, Long would eventually like to begin lecturing in higher education. This interest was sparked after teaching a communications course to doctors and medical researchers for the UNT Health Science Center.

Until then, she’ll continue to answer her calling to serve the community that she knows and loves.

ANGELICA JACKSON can be reached at angelicajackson@my.unt.edu.

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