One poorly managed crisis or major issue can damage the good reputation and momentum you’ve spent years building.
Our crisis and government relations experts have worked alongside hundreds of healthcare leaders to anticipate and navigate the toughest issues they have today, including government investigations, data breaches, certificates of need, labor issues, medical errors and other high-stakes situations.
Planning for Issues
We arm healthcare leaders with concrete communications and government relations plans to solve strategically significant regulatory puzzles or prepare for crises before they ever surface.
Crisis in the Moment
When you have an issue already in progress, time is of the essence. We immediately assemble a custom team of advisers, ready to walk alongside you 24/7. Our seasoned counselors provide guidance and tools to tackle high-stakes situations confidently and protect the trust your organization has earned among employees, physicians, patients and the community.
Insight into industry trends, healthcare venture capital news and communications best practices. Written from the perspective of our advisers, who work with healthcare leaders making high-stakes decisions every day.
Issue Navigation Case Studies
Leaders at a national hospital company learned that a “60 Minutes” investigative reporter was calling physicians and questioning its admission procedures. Leadership was torn about the best way to move forward. On the one hand, they knew that engaging the reporter risked calling attention to a non-issue if the story never aired. On the other, refusing to comment could give off the appearance that the company had something to hide.
First, we assessed the threat. We quickly learned from a variety of sources that the story would likely run and that we needed to get ahead of it.
We immediately convened stakeholders from the company’s communications, operations and legal teams to coordinate our crisis response plan. Together, we deployed the right team members to out-report the “60 Minutes” crew, making sure that we had all of the information they did. We hired an outside analytics firm to review the company’s admissions data – and the research showed the hospital’s admissions reporting procedures were unproblematic.
Armed with those findings, we engaged reporters and producers to determine the scope of the story. We learned what was likely to run and when.
We then pursued a “pre-sponse” strategy, providing that information, along with data from the outside firm’s analysis, to our own employees and Wall Street analysts, scooping the “60 Minutes” piece and ensuring that key audiences were prepared.
The “60 Minutes” story aired, but did not impact the share price or create an engagement problem with employees. The week following the broadcast, most reports from Wall Street analysts referred to the data from our independent analysis. With a coordinated team stacked with our advisers and hospital company leaders, we turned what could have been a major media mishap into a barely noticeable blip.
A venerable not-for-profit health system learned a member of its leadership team had inadvertently caused a massive-scale patient data breach. The system needed to alert patients about the problem while working with federal investigators and minimizing media attention. Leadership quickly assembled legal and crisis-response resources and called on us to coordinate the work with a shared strategic communications plan.
We immediately formed a campaign team of system leaders, counsel and communications professionals to manage the crisis as the single source of information. We disseminated information through channels including a dedicated website and call center.
Together, we developed consistent, empathetic messaging to curb misinformation and establish authority on the issue. We then implemented a strategic plan targeting staff, patients and the media.
- For staff, we distributed talking points and instructions to direct queries to a dedicated call center. We worked with the call center vendor to develop the responses and to convey rapid action.
- For patients, we drafted letters from the hospital apologizing for the data breach, explaining how it happened, outlining steps being taken and offering free credit monitoring.
- For media, we developed and proactively shared a press release to control the story. Once the story broke, we monitored and managed responses to traditional and social media.
Patients had clear information about how to protect themselves after the breach. The health system, meanwhile, suffered minimal media coverage from the data breach. By being transparent and sincerely apologizing, health system leaders maintained staff and community trust. By shaping the story early, media reported the incident in a fair way that inflicted no lasting damage.
Donors are among a tax-exempt health system’s most important – and delicate – constituents. A multi-hospital health system in the Northeast, which received $10 million to $15 million annually from donors, faced the challenge of communicating embezzlement of foundation funds by an employee.
After an internal investigation discovered the theft of more than $50,000 in donated funds, the health system discharged a trusted, long-time employee and notified the police of a suspected embezzlement case.
While there were no arrests at this point, the investigation and circumstances around the employee’s dismissal began to generate rumors. The system’s opportunity to control the message was quickly fading, and the system’s leaders grew concerned about the damage to donors’ trust and willingness to donate.
We were engaged to create a communications strategy during this critical period. Quickly, we worked with system leaders and legal counsel to establish two specific goals: Keep the news cycle as brief as possible and restore stakeholders’ trust – immediately.
Based on those goals, our work included the following steps and principles:
Create a plan. We developed messages, identified credible spokespeople, prepped our communication channels, and fully equipped the organization with the right tools and information to respond.
Show authentic empathy. We helped the hospital system develop messaging that clearly conveyed the health system’s full responsibility for safeguarding the funds. The system acknowledged donors’ natural concerns and pledged to seek full restitution.
Stay true to your values. Through our work, we also clearly communicated that the health system’s decision to share proactively this information was reflective of its values of openness, integrity and transparency
Tell it first. To take control of the message and defuse malicious rumors, we ensured that our most important stakeholders heard the news from the health system first. This included sending letters to all donors, as well as carefully timing communications so internal stakeholders received the information before it hit the media.
Tell it all. We guided the health system to tell the whole story as they knew it. This is a sure way to restore trust, and is a major factor shortening the news cycle because reporters won’t continue to dig for information if there’s nothing left to uncover.
Tell it yourself. We worked with the system to identify the most credible internal spokesperson and selected the foundation’s president. We also provided intense message and media training to prepare him for communicating the message effectively with internal and external audiences.
Get others to help you tell it. We also identified a highly credible third-party spokesperson – in this case, a widely respected banker who also is a prominent donor and foundation board officer – to reinforce the messages and reassure fellow stakeholders.
Don’t stop communicating. As new milestones occurred, such as the ex-employee’s arrest and sentencing, we continued to ensure that our important internal and external stakeholders heard it from us first.
Through a strategic approach that focused on important stakeholders and the hospital’s values, we helped this health system achieve both of its overarching goals.
The news cycle was limited to well under 24 hours, and the community’s trust in the system and its foundation rebounded quickly. In fact, the year of the theft resulted in the second-highest fund-raising performance in the foundation’s history – and many donors attributed their continued and enhanced support to their level of trust in the organization.