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WBUR Oral History Project: Tim Sullivan

Tim Sullivan

Interviewed by: Joanna Shea O'Brien

Date: January 24, 2014

Location: Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital (Charlestown, MA)

Recorder: Kristi Girdharry

Photo: Tim Sullivan (Photo provided by Tim Sullivan)



Tim Sullivan, Director of Communications for Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, grew up in Tiverton, RI, where he worked at a local farm throughout his high school career before enrolling at Northeastern University as a communications and political science major. He gained experience in audio and television production through Northeastern’s co-ops system and took a job at Boston University after graduation with the distance education program (a predecessor to online courses). While working at BU, Tim enrolled in a Master’s Program in Advertising which he completed in 2005. He began his career at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston that same year, in communications and media relations, with responsibilities growing as the hospital expanded its network. Tim married his college girlfriend, who is a violinist and a music teacher, and the pair had two children. He also teaches a media relations course at Boston University. Tim begins his interview reflecting on a childhood illness that caused hearing loss in one ear and being raised in a family with a strong work ethic and how that informed his approach to work at Spaulding later in his life. He describes Spaulding’s patient centered approach, which informs how he handles the media, and shares some lessons learned in his communications career.

In the months leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon, Spaulding leadership was consumed with the completion of and move to a new state-of-the-art, 132 bed, patient-centered, green design certified hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts. As the Director of Communications, he was focused on publicity, communications print, and media output leading up to the move; including an expected front page story with the Boston Globe that was scheduled to run the day after the marathon. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Spaulding set up an incident command center at the Nashua Street Boston hospital location. Tim discusses the chaotic events of the afternoon, and the week that followed as Spaulding navigated the move to Charlestown, the arrival of the first bombing survivors, and the anticipation of a media frenzy as those patients arrived.

Tim discusses at length the role of local and national media juxtaposed against Spaulding’s primary responsibility to protect the patients identity and help them recover and rehabilitate. Tim shares his approach to helping both patients and staff navigate the nonstop media attention, tactics he used, and lessons he learned. He reflects on the irony of how the Boston Marathon bombings changed many things for Spaulding, noting that at one time he would have gladly welcomed media attention from nationally known news outlets, but after April 15, 2013, he began to turn down media requests. He also shares anecdotes of some of the more challenging situations he had to navigate with Spaulding patients and staff. Tim concludes the interview reflecting on personal lessons learned and his gratitude for the stronger ties that he, the staff, and some patients now share in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.



Audio Clip 1

Tim details anticipating a feature story on the new hospital in the Boston Globe the Sunday before the marathon, and how they delt with the aftermath of marathon bombings.

Audio Clip 2

Tim describes the command center in the hospital lobby the afternoon of the bombing.

Audio Clip 3

Tim shares the challenges of intense media attention on the marathon patients as they arrived at Spaulding, and the lessons learned.


Full Interview

Related Links

WBUR Oral History Project: Stories from the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network

Maureen Banks (COO of Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, First Time Marathoner)

Dara Casparian and Samantha Conley (Physical Therapist and Occupational Therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Provided Rehabilitation Care to Survivors)

Suzette Chiong-Oglesby (Clinical Nurse Manager, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Mother of Marathon Runner, Marathon Spectator, Witness to Bombings, Treated Survivors)

Dr. David Crandell (Director of Amputee Services at Spaudling Rehabilitation Network, Marathon Runner)

Dr. Leslie Morse (Spaulding Physician, BAA Marathon Medical Tent Volunteer, First Responder)

David Storto (President of Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, Marathoner) 


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