Tips on Managing the Recent U.S. Ebola Crisis
Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States, died in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, October 8th. Duncan had recently traveled from Liberia, Africa to Dallas when he began feeling ill. He originally arrived at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 24th with a fever, vomiting and stomach pains, all symptoms of Ebola. He was sent home with antibiotics and a pain reliever, despite telling hospital officials that he had just arrived from Liberia. Duncan returned to the hospital two days later, by ambulance, was tested for Ebola, isolated and admitted to the hospital for treatment.
The delay in his care has many questioning whether U.S. hospitals are ready to treat multiple patients who might show up in emergency rooms with the deadly virus. The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidelines to all American hospitals on how to care for patients who are diagnosed with Ebola.
That leaves the issue of crisis communications tactics that hospitals across the country should have in place to address this health concern and others. The goal of crisis communication is to be proactive and transparent while giving information out to the public. Below are some basic tools and tips that healthcare communications teams should have in place to handle any crisis.
Organize a Crisis Communications Team.
A management team should be trained and ready to handle any health scare or issues that arise. Basically any issue that will put the hospital in a bad light has potential to become a crisis. This is a critical step that many facilities overlook. However, this team will be critical in handling any issue that arises.
Maintain a phone/email list.
This might seem like a trivial step, but it will come in handy when events are happening fast and you need to contact team members, department managers and members of the press. The list of numbers should also include board members, police and fire. You will need cell phone and home numbers and email addresses.
Choose the most effective digital communications tool for your hospital.
The middle of a crisis is not the right time to decide to use social media or stay with the hospital’s website. A social media account on any of the sites, (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Google+) should be set up in advance and used to disseminate hospital information. When a crisis emerges, using the site and your webpage should be easy. Be sure that all messaging is consistent.
Choose a media spokesperson.
There must be a person designated ahead of time to speak for the organization during a crisis. This spokesperson should be trained and will be the lead communicator for your organization.
Prepare pre-approved media statements.
Write media responses for your crisis and have them approved. This message should be clear and have general information about the organization and the actions that are being taken. It is also important to be transparent during a crisis. Schedule timely updates to inform the media and the public. These can be arranged via press conferences and on the hospital’s website.
If your hospital or company implements these basic rules of crisis communication, your team will be able to get through the issue with as much ease and organization as possible. Remember to always have debriefing sessions once a major issue is over. This will help you tweak your plan and find out what works and what needs to be changed for the future.
Damali Hill, @DamaliPR