When PR disaster strikes, hospitals must make the first move

How a hospital responds to a crisis--and bad press-- is vital, as two recent cases show.

Healthcare Dive examined the responses of two hospitals that faced public relation nightmares in the past month that could have seriously damaged their professional reputations. 

Last month Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City faced a PR nightmare when its emergency room physician David Newman, M.D., was arrested on charges of sexually abusing a woman who visited the ER for shoulder pain.

But the hospital was prepared for the media onslaught. The same day that the New York Daily News reported both the New York Police Department and the Manhattan district attorney's office were investigating the accusations, the hospital issued a statement to the paper confirming it took the claims seriously and would fully cooperate with the investigation. Officials also confirmed the hospital had suspended Newman when he was arrested on January 19.

Mount Sinai's approach of addressing the accusations the day they became public was the best possible PR strategy for such a situation, Marcia Rhodes, regional managing director at healthcare marketing firm Amendola Communications, told Healthcare Dive. The hospital's decision to suspend him was also sound, Fraser Seitel, a partner at Rivkin & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in healthcare crises, told the publication.

"If he is found by Mount Sinai's investigation, not to mention by the courts, to be guilty, then the institution has to discharge him," Seitel said. "The reason why is because the reputation of the organization transcends the individual."

The publication also examined the case of Anjali Ramkissoon, a neurology resident at Miami's Jackson Health System, who was recorded in January intoxicated and verbally abusing an Uber driver. Ramkissoon has since been suspended. This incident, while similarly harmful to the hospital's PR, is somewhat different in that it does not involve Ramkissoon's work as a clinician, Seitel said. Ramkissoon's public apology on "Good Morning America" likely helped her damage control efforts, according to the article.

Hospitals seeking to manage PR fallout must take social media into account as well, according to the article. Not only are social media a major news source for people under 40, they were ground zero for numerous recent healthcare PR disasters, including a Pennsylvania ER technician who posted pictures of patient X-rays and severed fingers on her Twitter account and a nurse fired for posting an Instagram photo of a trauma room shortly after a man hit by a train was treated there.

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