Hospitals should Learn from the Mandela Media Circus and Update their Crisis Plans


Here’s a question for you – When last have you conducted a dry -run or have had an independent audit of your hospital group’s crisis plan – its communication management and emergency action plans? Especially with the media furore and presence at Nelson Mandela’s hospitalisation and with the proliferation of social media tools and mobile phone technologies.

The Star newspaper reported that “jumpy journalists thronged outside the Pretoria Hospital where the icon is being treated…they also reported that Security had to be beefed up” Other Hospitals can learn from this. With more and more politicians and celebrities visiting South Africa, this is likely to happen more often.

Crises can result in unplanned visibility that can affect the standing of a Company in the eyes of its stakeholders. That’s why an audit of a Company’s crisis plan is as vital as regular financial audits.

A crisis can strike a Business at any time; and during this crisis a Company’s image and reputation can be damaged significantly. Often, this can be a result of not responding adequately to media and other stakeholder enquiries. Understanding what Communication challenges may arise during a crisis or before one occurs is therefore critical.

No Company, organisation or individual whose livelihood depends on public support can therefore afford to function without a crisis communication plan. Yet, many organisations still have no such plans. Many companies say they need it but think that with positive thinking and hope the inevitable will never occur. The reality is that Crises are often unavoidable. What is avoidable is being ill prepared. After all, Noah built the Ark before it rained. And, how is it possible that some companies find opportunities in the time of crises, while others succumb to the danger.

The secret is that they have a well-prepared and tested Crisis Communication and Management Plan and that all the staff, including those who will deal with the media are well trained, ready to face the crises.

Who in your organisation has had the responsibility and decision making authority to create and implement an effective crises communication plan, decide when and how to initiate media coverage – and when not to-, what to do once a crises does occur and how to ensure that the media tells your side of the story?

Does your plan cover the:

  • Definition of a Crisis?
  • Anticipating of Crises?
  • Tips on creating a how-to-manual on developing and implementing a crisis communication plan?
  • Creation of Contact lists?(And upkeep)
  • The link between Emergency planning and The Crises Communication plan?
  • Designating of Spokespersons?
  • Determining the most effective message to communicate to the media and stakeholders?
  • Maintaining Control?
  • Re-establishing lost goodwill?
  • Tips on how to prepare for a Crisis or a media press conference?
  • Tips and guidelines on how to deal with Social Media? (Twitter, Facebook, Blog Wars, etc.)

Organisations such as Hospitals should begin their crisis plan with a vulnerability assessment in which the crisis communication team looks at the likelihood of certain kinds of crises and assesses the organizations ability to respond. Below are listed some common crises with categorisation.

Most hospitals may be best prepared to accommodate Class A and B crisis, spurred by legal requirements. However, many may be less able to manage class C, although preparation for Class A and B may ready the institution to manage its own “disaster.” However, few hospitals may be properly prepared for Class D.

The value in grouping crises is in providing a potential list of scenarios for which the hospital may prepare and document their crisis contingency plan.

CLASS A

  • External Natural Disasters
  • Potential Medical Challenges
  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Severe thunderstorms
  • Tornadoes

CLASS B

  • External Disasters
  • Medical Emergencies
  • Building fires
  • Explosions
  • Structural collapse
  • Chemical or radiation exposure
  • Multiple victim accidents (Le., car, bus, train, plane)
  • Disease epidemic ~ scale poisoning
  • Riots
  • Paramilitary conflicts
  • Nuclear fallout

CLASS C

  • Internal crises / Medical Emergencies
  • Fire
  • Explosion
  • Disease epidemics
  • Serial killer or rapists
  • Staff-patient criminal actions (i.e., poisoning, suffocation)
  • Multi-victim food poisoning
  • Large-scale infections
  • Structural collapse
  • Air pollution
  • Terrorist attack

CLASS D

  • Internal Crises / Non-Medical Emergencies such as Severe disruptive union activities (i.e., slow-down, walk-out, strikes)
  • Unexpected executive death
  • Bomb threats
  • Class action lawsuits
  • Consumer demonstrations
  • Malpractice and/or negligence lawsuit
  • Citations by local/state/regulatory agencies
  • Indictments by judicial agencies of hospital or medical staff
  • Fraud or Embezzlement
  • Large-scale theft
  • Staff-patient abuse
  • Supplier disruption (i.e., blood, food, drugs and other medicines, construction, power failure)
  • Celebrity patients like Mr Mandela
  • Unusual medical treatment
  • Major changes in enabling or funding legislation (i.e., changes in charter conditions, cuts/ balloons in Medical aid allocations, tax exempt status, Medical aid fraud or abuse investigation).

Every hospital in a group should be prepared to deal with emergencies (other than that by the Casualty department). It is well known that the best way to prevent the spread of remorse and misinformation is by issuing factual information as soon as possible. At the same time, a hospital must protect its own interests and the patient’s right to privacy then relay factual information in an orderly, controlled manner.

That is why the hospital’s crisis communication plan should outline a procedure for communication with the media and other stakeholders. That is why your hospital’s emergency plan and crisis communication plan should be combined and tested.

An audit and benchmarking exercise could reveal opportunities for improvement and/or provide the assurance that everything is in order.

Conclusion

There are few kinds of organizations for which PR is more important than hospitals.

Hospitals must constantly strive to earn and keep a good reputation among doctors, patients, donors (if charitable), other funding sources and broad community leadership. If a hospital is not perceived by all stakeholders as providing quality care in a responsible manner it will fail. Because of the diversity of audiences, hospital PR must address a wide range of concerns and convey information at many levels of detail. Hospital PR also has a role in supporting the satisfaction and effectiveness of employees who perform critical tasks under difficult conditions.

Hospitals are typically among the larger institutions in their communities. Therefore, almost everything they do or say is potentially important and/or controversial. Public relations should be involved at the highest strategic levels of hospital management to help guide decision-making in ways that will help accomplish long-term goals.

My one blog article – https://deonbinneman.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/an-untested-emergency-response-plan-is-a-source-of-reputation-risk/ may also spark more debate about this.

You might also be interested in this information from my blog – I have my own product which is really a primer for starting the process of developing a crisis plan in a company – see http://deonbinneman.com/services/products/how-to-write-a-crisis-plan-toolkit/ and my blog post https://deonbinneman.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/how-reputation-event-crisis-ready-is-your-organization/ that could stimulate thoughts in this regard.

Anyway, I just thought that you might find my post and questions – thought provoking. Please access my blog for more information.

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