Corporate Compliance

Tip: Limit bad press: Prepare for unanticipated events

Compliance Monitor, August 3, 2005

The compliance risks your facility faces don't just come from government actions. Should an unexpected event occur, your facility's good name could take a beating in the press.

Rick Wade, senior vice president for communications at the American Hospital Association recommends hospitals have a plan in place to deal with the unexpected. He says facilities should complete the following steps:

1. Form an unanticipated-events task force. This team directs media relations during problem situations. The team should also meet regularly to update press policies and procedures. Members need a list of ways to contact each other after hours. This team should include at least the following members:

 The chief operating officer or someone else who works daily with all department heads.

 A board member. This should be an experienced board member who understands the community and can provide the community perspective.

 The communications manager.

 Legal counsel.

 A clinical staff member (e.g., a physician or a nurse).

2. Identify risks. The task force needs to make a list of all possible risks on the horizon. The list should touch on all areas where your facility may someday be the target of media attention.

3. Create/update a framework. Should an unanticipated event arise, task force members should, when possible, adhere to the following steps:

 Gather as much information as possible.

 Convene a meeting to discuss strategy.

 Appoint a spokesperson.

 Decide the best way to communicate your message, including what points to cover.

 Decide on a time frame for putting out your message. In most cases, the facility will have less than 24 hours.

 Quickly inform board members of the problem.

 Contact local government leaders and others who should hear about the event from the facility itself. Inform hospital clergy of the problem.

 If possible, inform employees of as much as you can before releasing information to the media.

4. Take action. Some leaders in your organization may want to keep a serious problem quiet and hope the media doesn't find out. Instead, your facility should contact the media directly and present the problem in terms of how your organization plans to fix it, Wade said. This way, your organization shields itself from being on the defensive when the media gets hold of the story.

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