Crisis Planning for Hospitals and Health Systems – Recap

Our world is constantly in a state of flux. Especially in healthcare, where so many people rely on us, we must be prepared for a number of different crises that could come our way. If your brand is not seen as trustworthy and respected, it will suffer greatly. How can you prepare for a crisis? Watch our recent webinar: When things don’t go according to plan: Crisis Planning for Healthcare, or keep reading!

What exactly is a crisis?

A crisis is any event, issue or situation that threatens to undermine the relationship between your organization and one or more of its stakeholders; or any event, issue or situation that may negatively affect your business and/or reputation.

Paul mentioned that there are two main types of crises, sudden and smoldering.

Sudden – Accounts for about 30% of crises. Examples would be events like a mass shooting, fire, or another sudden disaster.

  • First, there is initial chaos, then “aftershocks” as everyone processes what has happened.
  • Leaders can prepare by having a plan in place.
  • Establish the facts and use consistent messages.
  • Speed is essential (possibly full-time coverage).
  • Updates every 30 minutes for the first few hours, then hourly after that, even if it means telling them there is nothing new to report. Use your own social media channels too.

Smoldering – Accounts for about 70% (the majority) of crises. Examples are the ongoing COVID pandemic updates and drawn-out legal matters like embezzlement or lawsuits.

  • Much more likely to occur but more difficult to plan for and identify!
  • Leaders often avoid, ignore or misunderstand the potential severity.
  • Mismanagement or human errors are sometimes involved.
  • Sometimes go away on their own (but don’t count on that).
  • Reflect on the quality and ability of leaders.

How can you prepare for a Crisis?

Whether a sudden or smoldering crisis, they should both be responded to in the same way: putting PEOPLE first. We use the PEAR acronym to help guide us:

  • People: Make sure your people are safe. If people are injured or sick, make sure they are taken care of before anything else. If people have unfortunately died in this crisis, treat their memory and families with the utmost respect. That should go without saying, but it’s a blunder that happens.
  • Environment: Make sure your physical or digital environment is safe for your employees and the general community. In the case of the COVID pandemic, many workers were sent home while employees that still had to come in were given PPE and added safety requirements.
  • Assets: Now access your assets, including cybersecurity and data, your physical buildings and equipment, and, again, your people.
  • Reputation: Finally, once all those things are handled, THEN you can start worrying about your reputation.

How to prepare for the media?

Depending on the scale of your crisis, it’s very likely the media will get involved in some way. From national news coverage to a local influencer posting about the event on Twitter, here are some ways your can prepare:

  • Remember: It’s not about answering their questions; it’s about delivering your message.
    • Establish those key messages BEFORE you talk to the press.
  • When the media calls you:
    • Find out who else is being interviewed.
    • Anticipate questions.
    • Establish the right spokesperson (not always the CEO).
    • Know and respect their deadlines.
  • General Strategies:
    • Fight emotion with emotion (anger at those who misbehaved or sympathy for those harmed).
    • Put a human face on the crisis: Humanize your organization. Communicate using faces, not logos. Make it personal by helping people know why we exist and that we care.
    • Engage third parties (Associations, Elected Officials, etc.).
    • Be 100% honest all the time.
      • If you don’t know the answer, say so!
      • Don’t answer a question you don’t understand.
      • Don’t exaggerate.
      • Always tell the truth.
  • Managing Social Media:
    • Stop the presses: If you have content pre-scheduled, unschedule and reevaluate all your posts before sending them out.
    • Social is an efficient place to share updates, easier than a presser!
    • Listen and learn; pause before responding directly to anything.
    • Measure sentiment and track trends to see how your reputation is affected over time.
    • Be human, conversational, and truthful.


Above all, be there for your patients. Your staff. Visitors. Partners. Friends. Community. They’ll remember how you treated them long they’re forgotten about the crisis.

You can read more about Crisis Management in our book, Under the Influence – Second Edition.

Need help with your crisis planning? Schedule a call with our VP Paul Fahey.

Download the slides here: