Restoring reputations: Crisis management for skilled nursing facilities
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a leading skilled nursing network became swept up in a swirl of intense media interest and regulatory scrutiny after one of its facilities suffered a cluster of fatalities, which at the time was the most COVID-19 nursing home deaths in Illinois.
The company’s slow, uneven responses to requests for comment was creating a vacuum being filled by speculation from patients and family, newsrooms and public officials, all of whom were eager to point fingers at the company.
To get ahead of the crisis operationally and clinically, Culloton +Bauer Luce brought in a noted infectious disease control expert and a renowned gerontologist to lead a system-wide task force and to communicate to media, elected officials, staff, patients and families that the company was in control.
We instituted a crisis communications war room, with twice-daily crisis team calls to assess the company’s operational response to emerging issues and to ensure responsiveness to the intense media interest from local and national media.
After announcing the task force formation, CBL quickly coordinated a virtual media tour for the task force co-chair to explain the company’s plan and to appeal for more government resources for nursing homes.
CBL also increased communications with elected officials, patients and families. We drafted a letter on behalf of the company CEO to the Illinois Governor and other elected officials, detailing a timeline of the company’s pandemic response while highlighting the challenges faced by nursing homes because of the lack of a clear national strategy. The company also began issuing regular email and text communications to families, and the infectious disease expert posted frequent video updates about the task force’s work.
We continued to issue operational updates over the spring and summer, including a “hot spot” testing squad to infiltrate facilities where outbreaks were suspected, further reinforcing the company’s proactive approach to managing the pandemic, and we fended off inquiries about a potential strike by Certified Nursing Assistants.
By mid-summer, we announced patient recoveries, including a critical milestone that the facility that originally had experienced the highest nursing home COVID-19 fatality rate in Illinois had recovered with no patients testing positive for COVID-19.
With CBL’s intervention, the narrative changed from a company in free-falling crisis to a company meeting the pandemic head-on. As a result:
- Patient referrals increased 44.9%
- Newsweek named two of the company’s facilities in its “Best Nursing Homes of 2021” rankings.
- A leading pharmaceutical manufacturer asked the company to enlist in a national study of a potentially life-saving COVID-19 treatment designed for nursing home patients. Not only had the company turned around its own crisis, it was now being positioned to help save lives across the country.
Having faced as many challenges as we have over the last few months, knowing that you guys have our back makes those moments conquerable. I feel blessed everyday to have you part of our team.