Linda Arters, public and media relations consultant

When the death of the 87-year-old California woman not given CPR by staff at her independent living community captured international news attention, it turned out to be a lesson to the industry in more ways than one.

Yes, I know you are now reviewing the operational end and how your organization would handle a similar situation with your residents, your patients, and your staff members. Don’t forget to put yourself in the shoes of Jeffrey Toomer, executive director of Glenwood Gardens, where the now deceased woman had lived. 

His statement to the media indicating his personnel followed protocol by calling emergency medical personnel for assistance and waiting with the individual needing assistance until EMS personnel arrived must certainly have reassured all families who have loved ones in long-term care facilities across the nation, right?

Of course, then there’s the corporate headquarters of Brookdale Senior Living where phone calls and emails to the press contact listed have not been returned despite emphasizing a deadline for this article. Finally, a call directly to Glenwood Gardens asking to speak to someone about the policy there in light of the incident resulted in the friendly receptionist providing another phone number. This number turned out to be an automated customer service line where I could leave my name and number and “someone” would get back to me.

What information has been conveyed?  What impression has been left to the outside world?  How does this support your organization’s reputation as a caring and competent facility for entrusting a beloved family member?  How does this impact the bottom line?

Messaging will make or break an organization and in today’s digital world, messaging takes many forms. We live in a universe where communicating never stops and you cannot hide from it. You can’t control it. But you can be prepared for managing it.

News alert to all decision makers in the long-term care industry:  Prepare to communicate during a crisis BEFORE a crisis communicates for you.

One thing is certain with a crisis: Things happen fast. Details are vague at first, often inaccurate. The media will be there to report it. You must be there too.

Simply put, the media is like a hungry dog. Feed it and it will go away, at least for a while. If it comes back, feed it some more. Reporters have a job to do. Get the information as fast as possible. They will get “information” in one way or another. They have air time to fill on radio and TV, space in print and in the digital world. 

The best people to help you handle this are the professionals trained in communications, journalism, public relations. They understand how the reporters work in today’s digital world of instantaneous sound bites, tweets, posts, B-roll and images. 

The rapidly expanding LTC industry must recognize that avoiding talking to and working with their local media as well as the regional, national and even international media is a detriment to the well-being of not only the elders we are committing to serving. There is a definite impact that can be attributed to the branding, marketing, and the bottom line.

Linda Arters is a 35 year veteran in the public relations industry with expertise in healthcare, crisis communications, and media relations. Based in Tempe, Arizona, she now specializes in her three passions: the long-term care, EMS, and veterinary care industries. She can be reached at [email protected]