Be Ready for the Next Ebola

I’m guessing Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas didn’t have a crisis communications plan in place last month.

Texas Health Presbyterian is, of course, now infamously known as the hospital that originally misdiagnosed Thomas Eric Duncan, who would later die of and spread the deadly Ebola virus. In an attempt to save its public image, the hospital hired global PR firm Burson-Marstellar last week.

Considered one of the top health care facilities in Texas for years, the hospital has come under intense scrutiny from the media and the public in the last several weeks. It’s mismanagement of Duncan’s care is the root of the cause, but it hasn’t done itself any favors with some missteps in its statements to the media.

After blaming a flaw in its electronic health records system one day, the hospital did a 180 the next day, saying there were no flaws. This message is confusing… “We’re using ineffective systems… wait, actually the systems are fine, but we’re not really sure how we messed this up.” Not exactly instilling a lot of confidence.

Then two of the hospital’s nurses contracted Ebola.

This is why it’s so important to have a crisis communication plan in place, especially for a health care facility. A crisis in this field can lead to deaths and widespread panic.

Did Texas Health Presbyterian have a crisis communication plan when it first realized it had an Ebola case on its hands? Probably not. And it has remained ominously silent since its first statements until Burson-Marstellar entered the picture.

Dr. Daniel Varga, the hospital’s chief clinical officer admitted that “We made mistakes” and apologized. But in this day and age of saying we’re sorry, is it enough? At first glance, it doesn’t look like it will be.

The New York Times reported last week that the hospital has a serious image problem and that health care officials fear the hospital’s nurses might not come into work and patients might stay away. Suzanne Worthing, whose husband is one of those patients, called Texas Health Presbyterian the “Ebola epicenter” of the U.S.

As hospitals and health care facilities across the world are updating their health protocols to deal with the potential outbreak of an insidious disease like Ebola, hopefully they’ve learned something from this PR nightmare, as well. Do yourself a favor – draft a crisis communications plan.