Advocating for patients

Sara Howley Callari ’91 uses her background in communication to rebrand hospital systems

By Laura Bednar ’17

Northeast Ohio native Sara Howley Callari ’91 always thought she’d return to the Cleveland area after moving to Florida when she was 25. But professional opportunities have led her to carve a career path that has seen her rebrand and market high-profile companies in the restaurant, automotive, and health-care industries throughout the Sunshine State.

“It was daunting to move, but there’s a big Cleveland contingency down here,” says Callari, who majored in communication and minored in English at John Carroll. “I’m clearly a Cleveland ambassador living in South Florida.”

After meeting fellow Ohioans and Carroll alums in the area, Callari began to feel more at home. One of her more memorable encounters was with legendary NFL head coach Don Shula ’51, to whom she introduced herself at a Miami Heat basketball game.



Callari’s career in the communication field began shortly after graduation, assuming roles with North Coast Cable, The Plain Dealer, local ABC and CBS affiliates, and Darden Restaurants in Orlando, Florida. Her early career achievements helped her secure the media relations specialist position with the North Broward Hospital District in 1997. During her 18-year tenure, Callari rose through the ranks of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based public health-care system. In 2012, as the senior vice president of marketing and communications, she led the five hospitals and numerous outpatient centers that comprised the district in a rebranding that would unite the facilities under an easily recognized name, look, and feel – Broward Health.

Each hospital’s use of a different name and logo caused confusion among patients and members of the community. Callari’s efforts to rebrand the system under a common name would lead to improved consumer awareness and less brand confusion for the system. This convenience translated to a better experience and, ultimately, better patient care.

“It was difficult because people typically don’t like change,” she says. “Many of the community shareholders resisted the name changes of their hospitals, but we were able to build a new brand and increase awareness and patient volumes and satisfaction within a short time.”

Callari, with the support of her talented team and ad agency, worked to make the hospitals stand out in a competitive market. Instead of typical health-care billboards and ads depicting doctors, medical equipment, and patients, they created more consumer-friendly, award-winning campaigns that broke through the health-care marketing clutter.

“I work in one of the most competitive health-care markets in the country, so it’s important to try new and unique ways to reach consumers,” she says. “We needed to find a way to make health care less scary and dull and more creative – and in some cases, even humorous.”

Callari’s expertise in understanding the needs of patients led her to play an active role in the implementation of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), a federal law enacted in health-care organizations throughout the country to better protect patient privacy. Callari’s involvement extended beyond her own district, playing key roles in statewide and national efforts to help hospitals implement the law and educate the media and the public about its impact. In 2002, Callari and other health-care industry leaders were invited by the American Hospital Association (AHA) to address the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., about what was – and was not – working with HIPAA. The AHA identified Callari as a valuable contributor to the conversation because she drew on her own professional experiences working with the health-care and media industries to find ways to better navigate the new law.

“I was thankful to be able to outline my challenges and point to areas where hospitals and first responders might need to better focus on privacy and help patients and their families when they’re in a tough situation,” she says. “We have to manage that information while still providing assistance to the media.”

Callari has helped protect the privacy of many patients who have found themselves the focus of the media’s attention, including those who were buried alive in the devastating earthquake in Haiti, patients traumatized by a hurricane’s destruction, or other disasters that have garnered national and worldwide media coverage. Callari’s professionalism and naturally empathetic persona help make a trusted spokesperson and patient advisor.

“You cannot help but be human and build relationships in the middle of doing your job,” she says. “It’s an incredibly emotional and vulnerable time for patients when they’re in the hospital. It’s even more so when they’ve been through a traumatic accident or event. In many cases, you have to go beyond media relations and truly help people. Sometimes people need clothing, housing, and other necessities. It’s all about being a patient advocate and helping people. I’ve met patients who’ve changed my life. I’m still close with many of them and their families. That is the most rewarding part of my job.”

Callari’s work in health-care marketing and communications has earned her numerous awards and accolades, but she considers her recent induction into DTC Perspectives’ second annual class of top hospital marketers to be one of the most gratifying recognitions. DTC Perspectives is a publishing, training, and consulting company specializing in consumer marketing of pharmaceutical and health-care products. A panel of experts weighs in on health-care marketing nationwide and decides who will be inducted, while also taking recommendations.

Breast cancer awareness
In February 2015, Callari moved on from Broward Health. After starting her own company, she took on a project with the team for AutoNation, the nation’s largest automotive retailer, the following July. The campaign was called Drive Pink, and its goal was to raise money for people with breast cancer through events and promotions, including the college football Cure Bowl in Orlando.

“I was flattered they wanted someone with a health-care background to assist with this project,” she says. “It was incredibly rewarding and took on a personal meaning for me because of my own breast cancer diagnosis.”

In April 2015, Callari’s friend, a radiologist, asked her to help test new radiology equipment for breast cancer. Although she had a clear breast MRI a few months before, she said she would be happy to help. Her scan led to a breast cancer diagnosis the following month. She was originally not due to be checked again until August, which would have meant a more serious diagnosis and outcome.

“I believe in divine intervention,” she says. “I have a feeling my father was up there and doing something to encourage the doctor and his staff to randomly select me. Unfortunately, family history was not on my side. I lost my father to cancer just a few months before my diagnosis, and I knew for years I was at risk, so I paid close attention and was checked regularly.”

In June 2015, Callari had a double mastectomy and spent the summer undergoing reconstruction and cancer treatments. She’s prescribed to take chemotherapy pills until 2020.

“For someone like me, it was difficult to slow down for my illness and surgeries,” she says. “I decided to get through my surgeries and treatments but try to continue to work as much as I could to keep my mind and body active. Keeping a positive attitude is so essential.”

Jumpstart a brand
After watching her transform the North Broward Hospital District into Broward Health, health-care competitor Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) hired Callari in February of this year as its vice president of marketing for the East Florida Division. HCA East Florida has 14 hospitals and several other health-care facilities. In her new position, Callari manages all communications, marketing, and branding efforts for the division. Her initial goal is to research the competitive marketplace and jumpstart HCA East Florida’s image and brand.

“When I left John Carroll in 1991, I had no idea where my career would take me, but I knew there were opportunities to be had,” she says. “I’m so thankful to have a great career in a niche market. I’m able to have an impact on consumers and their decisions. I help direct them to the better patient experiences through my work in health-care advertising and communications.” JCU

Editor’s note: Sara Howley Callari ’91 is no longer with HCA Healthcare. She’s president of the Howley Group, a company she started with her brother. They plan to grow their business in the marketing and communication sector, especially in health care.

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