Ebola: When Protective Gear Isn’t Enough

October 16, 2014

Property & Casualty

The recent cases of the Ebola virus in Texas have garnered national media attention, and brought certain healthcare organizations under scrutiny. In the midst of this crisis, healthcare organizations may be wondering what steps to take. Today I am happy to introduce our guest blogger, Simon Barker, Managing Partner at Blue Moon Consulting Group. Simon provides crisis management counsel and strategies for high profile cases in a variety of industries, including healthcare .

The response to Ebola at Texas Presbyterian in Dallas, Texas, and the transmission to two nursing staff (as of Wednesday, October 15) should be a wake-up call for senior leadership at all healthcare organizations. Training on the appropriate CDC Protocols—is obviously a first priority.  Another critical step is to make sure you have a practiced crisis management capability.

An image of a surgeon placing on a yellow glove on another surgeon in an operating room.Crises Aren’t Easy

From an outside perspective, Texas Presbyterian’s response has not been as streamlined and effective as it could have been, and it is likely that their crisis response is going to define their reputation for years to come.  Indeed, our experience suggests that it’s the response to the event – rather than the event itself – which is the largest factor in the degree of reputational damage any crisis event or issue causes.

There is a chance that Texas Presbyterian might be given the benefit of the doubt by some stakeholders because it was the site of the first Ebola patient who died and the first transmission in the U.S.  But, that’s not going to be the case for a second hospital.

To Do Now:

Dust off that crisis management plan!  Actually, if your plan does have dust on it, you may already have a big problem, as no one will know what potentially great guidance it might have—or where it needs some work.  Dust-laden or not, your plan should define:

  • When, how and what information is escalated to decision-makers;
  • Coordination expectations and roles and responsibilities between an individual hospital and the corporate offices or equivalent if you are part of a system;
  • The core crisis management team, its leadership, and the role of the hospital CEO;
  • How the team will actually operate in a crisis to ensure understanding of decisions that have been made, who is responsible for executing specific tasks, and importantly, how the team is proactively identifying future risks and issues;
  • Crisis communications protocols, not just with the media but all critical stakeholders, particularly your employee-base and patients.

This is not the same as your emergency response plan.

Testing Your Leadership Team for Ebola.

In addition to the agreed documented procedures, you need to ensure your leadership team is familiar with roles and expectations.  The team should have been or should be “stress-tested” through executive-level exercises.  Depending on your risk, stress-testing can be anything from a two-hour tabletop exercise to multi-day, multi-team, and multi-location functional and full-scale exercise.

Improving Your Chances

Your hospital or healthcare network – let’s hope – may never have a case of Ebola.  However, the planning and procedures you formalize and put in place will benefit you for the broad range of reputational risks your organization faces.  Making it up as you go along – whether Ebola infection prevention and control procedures or crisis management – simply does not improve your chances of success.  For more information on how to get prepared, visit Blue Moon Consulting Group: Crisis Management.

Simon Barker, Managing Partner Blue Moon Consulting Group

Simon has provided issues and crisis management advice and counsel to clients in the midst of high profile product recalls, protests, cyber attacks and data breaches, workplace violence events, natural disasters and a broad range of ethical, financial and social issues. He bring his “hands-on” experience to clients in advance of a crisis or issue and has developed over fifty crisis management and crisis communications plans for clients in the higher education, technology, financial services, consumer goods, healthcare, and sports industries amongst others. He has led training sessions, tabletop and functional exercises for organizations in the US, Europe and Asia.

About Blue Moon Consulting Group

Blue Moon Consulting Group provides its clients insight, counsel, and experience to help them effectively manage real-time response to significant issues and crisis events.  We also help organizations mitigate issues and avoid crises altogether through the development of proactive issues management programs, the enhancement of crisis management and communications plans, and by conducting training, exercises and leadership sessions. Our goal is to build an organizational culture in which reputation is viewed as a key asset and fundamental strategic input into decision-making.

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