There has been a lot of improvement in long-term care in the past five years. The rate of off-label use for antipsychotics has dropped, long-term care facilities have ramped up their infection control procedures and there are numerous success stories about providers working with hospitals to boost admissions and increase revenue.

But there’s an area that I would argue is as bad as it was when I wrote about it in 2012, which is handling a public relations crisis.

Recently I called a provider and introduced myself, then said, “Could you send me to whoever handles media calls?” She said, “Oh, we don’t have anyone who does that.”

McKnight’s colleague Emily Mongan told me recently that she called a person listed as a media contact and was told not only was that incorrect, but that the person listed said she didn’t know who would answer media calls. Emily also had a complaint from a company that said it never received a message that she’d called, and, as Emily put it “had to have a chat with the receptionist” about who receives media calls.

Both Emily and I have had people either lie to us (“Nope, that didn’t happen here.” But, ma’am, I’m looking at the police report.), hang up on us or become upset that we were calling them. The most recent time that happened to me, I was talking to a marketing director who cried, “But I’m just the marketing person!”

This lack of ability to handle media is such a common issue that I am, shameless plug alert, giving a presentation on it at LeadingAge Illinois on Thursday, April 27. How often do you hear about the importance of building relationships and forming a plan? That’s also true for dealing with reporters. I’ll be talking about how to achieve positive press while also handling calls from reporters regarding lawsuits.

We’ll talk about how to share the stories of all the good things happening in your facility and simple strategies that should make your life easier. But if there’s one big takeaway I want everyone to come away with, it’s that if you don’t have a marketing, communications or public relations designee, you have to tell your main line people who receives those calls from reporters. It can be the administrator, the executive director or the legal counsel. If you are the person receiving this call and have no idea what the reporter is talking about (which happens more than you might think), I promise it’s okay to say “Let me get your number and call you back. When is your deadline?”

No one is saying you have to go to media training, hire a public relations agency or create an entire marketing department from scratch. But trust me when I say that it helps your facility — your residents, your staff, your reputation and your community — when you don’t assume the worst.

Journalists, believe it or not, are people too. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking about ways to ruin your life. I’ve never seen a situation where hanging up on the reporter works, and I’ve seen a lot where a prepared statement or CEO talking to the reporter has made an article more balanced.

As a long-term care leader, you have a lot on your plate. Don’t make it worse by having a bad story out in the public eye that could have gone in a different direction.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.