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Preparing for Crisis: Hospitals Have Unique Vulnerabilities

Hospitals handle emergencies around the clock, so it’s only logical that they would be a magnet for crises.

Any organization could experience a crisis, either generated internally by elements you thought you controlled, or by external factors such as market conditions. Some institutions, however, are more prone: airlines, financial companies, cybersecurity firms and hospitals.

A hospital crisis could range from the relatively mundane, such as a nurses’ strike, to a major catastrophe such as the hurricanes that hit New Orleans and Houston, flooding hospitals and forcing severely ill patients to move to higher ground. Other likely sources are infection, due to the density of people and their exposure to common areas, and cybersecurity issues threatening the protection of patient privacy.

I’ve worked with a large county hospital in New York for more than 10 years. During that time, it experienced a financial crisis, a murder suicide involving a surgeon, and a ransomware attack that made national headlines and reduced doctors and nurses to using paper to track patients. There were sexual and physical assaults by staff on patients, patients’ assaults on staff, and the list goes on.

Plan for the inevitable crisis to come

As a full-service marketing and PR agency, Mower has developed and managed the reputations of dozens of hospitals over several decades. What we know is that the most crucial aspect of managing a crisis is how prepared you were in advance to handle it. A crisis is measured not by what initiates it, but by how long it lasts. And the duration of a crisis is defined by how long you are unable to perform business as usual.

Social media and traditional media compound the pressure on crisis managers. This further reinforces the idea that the best way to handle a crisis is to thoroughly prepare before one arrives. There is a clear need for real-time social media engagement to get news out to families of patients and employees. And few hospitals have such plans.

Mower believes there are three kinds of organizations: The first never had a crisis and thinks it never will; the second has had a crisis it was unprepared for and suffered loss of sales, reputation and employees; the third has not had a crisis but knows it will and is trained and prepared for that certainty. Which organization characterizes yours?

Crisis training can protect your hospital’s reputation

Some crises are no-win. All you can do is try to get back to neutral. Other crises, if handled well, will earn you respect and improve your reputation. But they happen daily — recent stories include a Michigan hospital sued for rescinding the job offer of a candidate who refused a flu shot on religious grounds, a nurse at a Texas hospital arrested for a patient’s murder, and a hospital computer system held for ransom in Indiana — and it’s pure folly to think you are immune.

If the cost of a full-day crisis management training for your hospital — about $15,000 to $25,000 — seems high, think about losing 80 percent of your sales (admissions) for a week, or watching your CEO walk out the door in handcuffs, or having to shut down two floors of the hospital due to HCAI. How much would one of those cost?

Mower’s five basic tenets of a rock-solid crisis management plan for hospitals:

  1. If bad news is going to come out anyway, you should release it, proactively and preemptively.
  2. Share bad news with friends first.
  3. Take all your hits in one round.
  4. Answer tough questions before they’re asked.
  5. Facts dissolve rumors and speculation.

Turn to Mower for a comprehensive crisis management strategy and plan

The five tenets are just the start of a comprehensive crisis preparedness plan. As a hospital, your reputation is paramount. Ask yourself again: Which of the three types of organizations listed above do you work for? Mower’s crisis team can help prepare you for the inevitable before it happens and manage it strategically for you when it does.

From full-day crisis management training workshops to creation of crisis plans and on-call support, our team of seasoned public relations and public affairs professionals can help you maintain and even grow your valuable reputation.”