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Hospital Crisis, Hospital Crisis Assessment, Hospital Crisis Management, Hospital Crisis Communication, Hospital Repositioning, Hospital Turnaround
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Hospital Crisis: The Case of a System in Distress
(Midwest: A Multi-Hospital System)

The System was bleeding red ink – upwards of a million dollars a month. Rumors were rife that there would be sweeping layoffs, and that one or more of the System’s hospitals would be closed, or sold off. Union leaders were on a rampage, calling for the ouster of Board members and the few remaining senior executives.

We were called in to review the existing crisis communications, to help redefine the Board’s response to major issues, and to develop new tactics to respond to employees, the community, the unions and the media.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of a Walk on the Wild Side
(North Central States: A Community Hospital)

Before this once-respected surgeon was dismissed, he had been surfing X-rated websites at hospital computers, in plain view of co-workers. He admitted to intentionally miscoding billing codes for patient services, and was 10 months behind in maintaining patient medical records. Then, the surgeon and his teenaged daughter were arrested for shoplifting.

But his loyal patients held protest rallies over his dismissal, roiling the community. And a handful of renegade physicians pushed publicly to have their colleague reinstated, and lobbied privately for a “No Confidence” vote against the CEO.

The Board and management retained us as crisis counselors and strategists. Working closely with outside legal counsel, we provided day-to-day advice, created a plan to communicate with each significant constituency, drafted specific communications vehicles and trained a hospital spokesperson.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of the Muckraking Editor
(Southwest: A Rural Hospital)

The hospital was minding its own business, when the city’s only newspaper, a weekly, launched a frontal assault. The editor, a notorious muckraker who thrived on making life difficult for the town’s established institutions, seized on state data that delineated hospital performance issues in specific clinical areas. The renegade editor converted these dated data into a full-scale, multi-week attack on hospital management.

We were called in to create a media relations strategy and response in the wake of the article series. While management and board favored a “take no prisoners” counter-attack, we recommended a more moderate course based on one simple reality: The hospital needed to coexist with the editor, so alienating him wouldn’t be prudent. Management and board acquiesced. The CEO met with the editor, clarified areas where he had been mistaken, updated him on developments since the publication of the state data, and offered to keep him apprised of developments.

As a result, later articles in the series were more benign – even favorable – toward the hospital. And in the end, editor and CEO, newspaper and hospital, began to more closely work in harmony.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of the Exorbitant Compensation
(Southeast: Community Hospital)

The imminent, board-mandated posting on the hospital website of the outgoing CEO’s $1 million compensation package would send shock waves through the community. The chairman was concerned that the local newspaper would blow the story out of proportion and cause a staff mutiny and possible union agitation. The paper had aggressively reported the CEO’s planned departure and continuing developments in the search for his successor.

We were called in to counsel on a tactical plan for the chairman to “get ahead of the story” and begin to “set the agenda,” rather than playing catch up with the local newspaper.

Accordingly, we recommended the chairman solicit an interview with the paper, just prior to the publication on the hospital website of the salary data. We suggested structuring the interview with other news – including succession updates and facility plans. Our strategy was not to dismiss but rather to downplay the salary tempest. Sure enough, the reporter led with the succession angle, casually mentioned the CEO’s compensation, and the hospital dodged a bullet.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of the Poisonous Environment
(New England: A Community Hospital)

With its modern facility and thriving satellite facilities throughout a four-county region, this hospital was doing well – except for a poisonous internal environment, cased by the attitudes and action of a small clique of disruptive and mutinous physicians.

We recommended and then helped execute a preemptive series of moves by Board and management to seize the agenda: (1) Dealing assertively with disruptive physicians through legal channels; (2) Focusing on winning the support of the majority of physicians by confiding in allies and meeting individually with the neutrals; (3) Boosting external messages about the hospital’s performance, rapid growth and quality gains; (4) Preparing standby statements and rebuttals for any negative public statements or lobbying for “No Confidence” votes from members of the medical staff.

Three months later, a petition by several rogue physicians to change Med Exec procedures and “stack the deck” was roundly rejected by the medical staff at large. By the end of the year, the contracts of two of the miscreants had expired and were not renewed; and two other hypercritical physicians were in the process of relocating out of state. Peace was returning to the valley.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of Financial Disarray
(Pennsylvania: A Community Hospital)

This two-campus community hospital system suffered a serious financial crisis, due to accelerated incursions by larger competitors into its market. Steady budget cuts and layoffs had damaged morale. Several well respected docs and senior managers departed. Long waits in the ER and critical headlines soured the public.

A hospital turnaround firm was hired, and immediate rumors spread about the possibility of one facility being closed. We counseled the Board to revamp the hospital’s approach to communications in the community, built around an open and honest dissemination of strategies, objectives and plans to reverse the negative course -- and a more accessible communications initiative approach from senior management.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of the Shaky Merger
(Mid-Atlantic States: A Regional Hospital System)

Three years after the merger of two hospitals, the new system was in crisis. Medical staff was feisty and uncooperative. The CEO was distrusted. Employee morale plunged after unprecedented layoffs and declining financial performance. The relationship with the dominant daily newspaper soured. Calls to “de-merge” intensified.

We counseled: (1) A diagnostic audit of the institution's public image, internal communications and marketing. (2) Aggressive communications to improve medical staff relations. (3) Aggressive communications to counter a challenge from the prime competitor’s new open heart program. (4) Adoption of a new, long-term hospital repositioning strategy – including advertising and public relations implementation – to establish the merged entity as viable community leader.

Within two years, the crisis subsided, and the community embraced the new positioning. We were further retained for crisis communications aftercare.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of No Confidence
(New Jersey: A Community Hospital)

When the medical staff issued a unanimous vote of "no confidence" in the CEO twice in an 18-month period – this well run hospital suffered a serious crisis of confidence in the community. Even its staunchest critics acknowledged the 200-bed hospital was profitable, financially strong, and delivered top quality care. But that wasn’t enough to subdue the steady drumbeat of medical staff and media criticism of management decisions.

When the hospital dissolved, without explanation, the primary care group started by the hospital's parent system – local newspapers smelled CEO blood. We arrived for a crisis assessment, and counseled a multi-level program, aimed at doctors, opinion leaders and general staff, to win back community trust. The program revolved around initiatives to increase internal candor, increase CEO internal visibility and increase CEO external availability

The community was persuaded, this hospital crisis died down, and the CEO kept his job.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of Financial Peril
(New York State: A Regional Hospital)

Multiple years of consecutive losses, union dissension and management mistrust cast this 100-year-old community bellwether into a precarious crisis. Management retained a hospital turnaround firm, but needed to reassure employees and the public that it would make it through the crisis.

We suggested an aggressive turnaround communications program to build support within the hospital and reestablish trust in the community. After a year of steady, continuous, strategic communications – the hospital and its management were well on the road toward regaining community confidence.

Hospital Crisis: The Case of a Non-Relationship
(Kentucky: A Community Hospital)

This profitable hospital was largely reviled in the community. The crisis centered on a tough, hard-driving CEO, whose relationship with the docs was non-existent.

When all-out public war erupted between the docs and the CEO, we were called in to cool the waters. We counseled “transparency” with the community and the staff. An open communications program was adopted to report on the results of a special task force, created by the board to mend relations. Simultaneously, we recommended a one-on-one program for the CEO to meet with individual physicians to repair relations. Gradually, brittle relations calmed enough for the CEO to exit gracefully

Hospital Crisis: The Case of a Suspicious Death
(Illinois: A Suburban Hospital)

This thriving hospital in an affluent suburb was rocked by a suspicious death after surgery. An emergency internal audit revealed that post-op nurses might have misread physician instructions for an I.V. drip. While no definitive conclusion as to the hospital’s negligence could be ascertained, a potentially serious credibility crisis was a distinct possibility.

CEO concerns about damaging litigation and even more damaging publicity dominated internal management discussions. Called in for a crisis assessment, we counseled “prudence” with respect to internal, external and family communications. We scripted dialogue with the patient’s family and created standby talking points for internal communications. Of greatest impact, we counseled there be no external communications, pending the conclusions of independent medical audits.

Ultimately, outside authorities found no negligence on the hospital’s part. The family accepted this conclusion, and the hospital continues to enjoy a pristine reputation in the community.