In June 2013, longtime client Gwinnett Medical Center learned that more than 100 patients and a larger number of employees might have been exposed to tuberculosis through contact with an employee who had developed active TB earlier in the year. The question, of course, was how to manage the situation, including communication with impacted patients and employees.
Our research identified at least two hospitals that had found themselves in similar circumstances – and opted to try to avoid adverse press coverage by having state health officials send exposed patients a form letter telling them they may have been exposed and what they needed to do. The result, not surprisingly, was that both got exactly the kind of negative exposure they were trying to avoid. In one case, an exposed patient was interviewed by a major television station waving his letter around in front of the hospital.
Our counsel was to take control of the story. Within a few days, we organized a press conference that was led by the hospital’s chief medical officer and that included representatives from the county health department as well as a TB expert from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The result? The coverage consistently emphasized the key messages the hospital wanted to communicate to the public. Further, it was essentially a one-day story – and one that generated a good bit of positive feedback from community leaders to hospital leadership.
The management of the situation won top crisis communications honors for 2013 from the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the Atlanta Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).