Crisis Communication

COVID-19 Response: Profound Respect for Healthcare Workers and My Team

I want to start out with a shoutout to all the healthcare workers and providers who are doing such important work during this time of crisis. I’m so inspired by their compassion, dedication, and commitment to their patients and to the communities they serve. With that said, it is easy to overlook the contribution of all the other people who support those frontline employees – food service personnel, environmental services and housekeeping (vitally important at all times), marketing communications, employee health professionals, human resources, and more.

Although our contributions aren’t nearly as heroic, a team like mine jumps into action when our clients face a crisis of any type. Most of that is unseen. My team and I have been on the front lines of the 2002/2003 SARS virus outbreak (a coronavirus) and the 2009/2010 H1N1 Influenza pandemic where there were 60 million cases in the United States, 274,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000+ deaths. As a result, we’ve developed expertise in the creation of strategic communications around serious public health crises and doing so on the fly. Today, we are actively supporting a number of healthcare organizations that are treating patients with COVID-19 and who are actively communicating with the public and their employees about how to deal with this crisis.

Like many of our amazing colleagues at health systems around the country who are working 24/7 to take on this challenge, my team is doing what needs to be done to help our clients navigate the pandemic. For my team, that means being available when our clients need us. Here’s what that looked like last weekend as four members of our relatively small team were collaborating remotely to help a client by crafting a plan outlining communications priorities along with draft messaging for a specific issue related to the coronavirus outbreak. (This is a snapshot of one team’s effort on behalf of one client. Imagine this happening for numerous healthcare clients in a variety of locations across the country.)

  • Friday night we worked collaboratively to gather and share authoritative source materials that would be used to inform the strategic plan and messaging that we were developing. Some of that content could be pulled from work we had already done for other hospitals facing this same crisis. However, the COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly and we needed to take a fresh, in-depth look at this challenge and specifically how it is impacting this locality.
  • By Saturday at 10:30am, we had a draft document ready for internal review.
  • On Saturday at 11am, we held a virtual work session on GoToMeeting to discuss the document, suggest revisions, and recommend areas that needed to be expanded.
  • By noon Saturday, we had a revised and expanded document that was circulated to the entire team for one more round of reviews.
  • By 2:30pm Saturday, we had a final draft ready to go to the client.

I am proud of the teamwork that went into this effort and similar efforts taking place every day. It is emblematic of what so many teams, individuals, and organizations are doing at this time. My experience has always been that crises have the potential to bring out the best in us; healthcare workers, in particular, rise to the challenge during tough times and go above and beyond. Teams at hospitals and health systems across the country are doing just that. In their actions, they embody the mission of their organizations, whether they are on the frontline treating patients with compassion and patience, or behind the scenes working on communications, security, housekeeping, or hospital operations.

With the constant media coverage related to the coronavirus, it is easy to feel daunted, anxious, fearful, and uneasy. Even if you’re not fearful, it is easy to get fatigued from the constant onslaught of negative news. This last week began to feel surreal with all of the cancellations taking place (NBA, NCAA Tournament, etc), the ban on travel to and from Europe, and a containment zone being set up around New Rochelle, New York. Truly, this is stuff you expect to see in SciFi movies. It is good to remember in the midst of all this there are people working to make a difference, dedicated to seeing us through this dark time – they are the light! And for them, I am grateful.

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