Restoring reputations: Crisis management for skilled nursing facilities

Restoring reputations: Crisis management for skilled nursing facilities

Restoring reputations: Crisis management for skilled nursing facilities

The Challenge
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.

Our Approach
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.

Impactful Results
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.


Client Testimonial

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.

Every Crisis Pales In Comparison to Las Vegas

By Dennis Culloton


In a week like the one America has just experienced, it seems trite to discuss crisis communications like we do here in this space–everything pales by comparison to the tragedy in Las Vegas.


We like to preach that in times of crisis, communicating to your customers and the public is a priority. That priority dropped down on the list for the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Sunday as the property became the scene of an active shooter unleashing a hellish amount of firepower on innocent concert goers–killing nearly 60, wounding more than 500. How can you find the right words when words can’t express the horror?


That didn’t stop Monday morning quarterbacks from questioning the resort’s social media strategy in the Las Vegas Review. A Las Vegas crisis communicator said the hotel should have been on Twitter as the tragedy unfolded. Sadly, everyone in crisis communications and strategy will learn new lessons from the nightmare.


I’m not among those critics. It was uncharted territory and a rampage which left everyone speechless.


Investigators and media watchdogs will no doubt examine what could have been done differently and reporters are already speculating as to whether hotel security staffs need more training to deal with the modern threats of our violent 21st century.


Training for the unthinkable is now required. Sadly for society, the same is true for all of us.

Dangerous Divisiveness

Dangerous Divisiveness

CzVrzx4XcAAXVFJAndrew Touhy, Account Executive

Crisis is often self-inflicted. There are countless examples of companies bringing a media storm upon themselves, and a recent casting call issued by Cadillac was no different.

Per an image posted by Reuters news service, the luxury car company issued a casting call notice that said their filming agency was looking for “any and all real alt-right thinkers/believers,” to be in a commercial that will “capture all walks of life of America.” The notice continued with a message that read, “This is not meant to be offensive in any way. Just a representation of all sides.”

The image received heavy criticism as it was relayed across social media platforms, and incited vast public denouncement of the company. Acting quickly, Cadillac issued a statement on Facebook vehemently condemning the notice, denying any responsibility in issuing it. The company’s casting agency, The Cast Station, admitted fault and issued this statement hoping to clear Cadillac of any involvement:

“A casting notice for an “alt-right” role in a Cadillac commercial was issued by mistake on Friday, Dec 9th. The notice was drafted by an employee, who was immediately terminated for her actions. Additionally, an outside third party further altered the breakdown without our knowledge and posted it on social media. Cadillac unequivocally did not authorize this notice or anything like it, and we apologize to Cadillac for the ex-employee’s actions.”

Though Cadillac used sound crisis-management strategy to quell the storm, some issues are too contentious. The current political climate of the United States does not allow for mishaps bearing this weight; it is going to bring a storm of consequences. The damage here may be done. Their public image may be unsalvageable – at least until people forget. Should it be the case that consumers do not associate Cadillac with divisiveness, it is still painfully clear that the company needs better oversight of their business partners. A mistake of this degree is inexcusable, and no crisis management strategy can wipe it clean. The only way to avoid this problem is to not let it happen in the first place. Period.


Pokemon Go Prepare For A Crisis

Pokemon Go Prepare For A Crisis

169Andrew Touhy, Senior Account Executive
The debut of Pokémon Go was nothing short of…wild. Nintendo’s first mobile-gaming hit recorded more downloads in a week than Tinder has had in its four years of existence, and saw it’s stock shares raise a ridiculous 55%, the fastest bounce in a decade for the company. There is no doubt about it – this has been a monstrous win for Nintendo. This release has brought Pokémon back from the dead and reintroduced it to the general population by ways of a mobile app.  Shortly following its release, I tweeted that Pokémon Go was destined to create crisis, and in just the first week, we have seen problems begin to emerge. So far, two men have fallen to their death, armed robbers have used the game to lure lone players, homes designated as ‘Pokémon gyms’ have been overtaken with strangers looking to train their newly captured Pokémon, and officials at the National Holocaust Museum and Arlington Memorial Cemetery have had to ask the public to stop hunting for Pokémon on the sacred grounds. 
            Now, looking at this through a public relations and crisis management lens, Pokémon Go has been such a success that the risks and negative fallout of the mobile app have not outweighed the benefits. The game has created such a buzz that negative headlines have not resulted in brand reputation damage.  
However, if I were advising Nintendo through this, I would suggest that we take a step back and assess what has gone well thus far, and what has not gone so well. Nintendo made a big statement to the world that they are an industry leader and ready and willing to step into the next generation of video games – augmented virtual reality. It is no secret that the initial wave of popularity will settle back into our stratosphere at some point, but the goal is to keep the popularity high. In order to do that I would suggest Nintendo make changes to the game that keep users safe, and make some common sense decisions to remove national monuments and memorials, and museums from the game. In order to maintain their popularity, and avoid facing major backlash and potential litigation, Nintendo and Pokémon Go need to adjust their strategy to satisfy the complaints following what was, by most accounts, a very impressive opening week. 

Thoughts on Dallas

Dennis Culloton, President and CEO

Nothing can replace a lifetime of experience and character when it comes to a moment of truth in a crisis situation. Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings rose to the occasion last night and this morning in addressing the media and the public after the cowardly sniper attacks on Dallas police officers securing a peaceful protest.

    They resisted the urge to lash out or speculate in the face of tremendous and inexplicable loss. They called for calm, they urged an end to divisions between police officers and communities across the country, and they reassured a city and a nation.  Our candidates for president should take note.