Camela Morrissey will present "Only Minutes to Act: Your Social Planning Didn’t Cover This Situation – Now What?" at the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network 2019 Annual Conference. To learn more from Camela and other expert speakers, please join us!
For those of us who have managed issues mitigation and crisis response programs, the saying “You Can’t Make this S*** Up” is a chorus of mutual understanding and occasional bewilderment at the range of what can happen in health care settings and public health scenarios.
Case in point… during the entry of the Ebola virus into the United States in 2014, it became clear to me that even the best laid plans are no match for the chaos that can be rendered by rumor and fear of the unknown. (And, this was after more than 25 years handling some very sticky things in and out of health care.) As the reality of the movement of this virus took hold and fear took on a fever pitch, our hospital network in the middle of Queens, NY had to prepare for the unimaginable. Our comms team was pre-emptive, responsive and proactive – working with the local community, public health communicators, and a large network of providers. We weren’t the biggest hospital in the region, but we were very fast and very responsive – and, we punched much higher than our weight with the media as a result. The community itself was diverse (more than 50% of our population was Chinese or Korean) and we did our work in multiple languages, attempting to get it right culturally.
So, what happened during that experience that made me realize there is a planning step that sometimes gets missed? It wasn’t the ‘eyewitness reports’ that people were falling over bleeding on a nearby subway platform (they were not). Instead, it was the day in the eye of the storm that we started getting calls from community leaders that they were hearing “the salmon has Ebola.” What the what?
Apparently, a rumor was rocketing around our primary service area that Ebola was being transmitted via salmon. This rumor spread within the local Chinese population and was fueled by a government action in China to halt to salmon imports because of a different virus. Salmon was a dietary staple in the community so this was brewing to be a hot mess of fear and cascading economic impact. As well, we were concerned that there would be a run on the ERs and clinics already on high alert for people exhibiting symptoms of possible infection.
In the aftermath, I recognized that while we all know crisis situations don’t unfold in a straight line – they almost never do – our plans still treat them like they just might. And, too often we practice implementation drills in a vacuum – practicing how to manage against facts and acts, versus the emotional and behavioral impact of fear and the unknown.
Social infrastructure is a mighty tool for adjusting on the fly and engaging large groups of people in sharing information. Deploying social to avert/manage a crisis is now routine for many healthcare communicators. We plan for any number of situations, yet there are still those that arise that we cannot imagine -- and they show us what was missed in preparation. Especially if we haven’t considered how people act in conditions that create emotional pressure. We need to pressure test our plans – not just on paper, but with truly dicey scenarios that the preparation around social tools, technology, and techniques are uniquely capable of helping us get and stay on the offensive when the stuff hits the fan from a direction that you never imagined.
Camela Morrissey is a marketing and strategic communications executive with more than 25 years of management experience and has had the good fortune to participate in many of the sea changes in the business of healthcare, including the rise in health care consumerism and connectivity. She is currently the principal of Amerge -- a high service consultancy which focuses on marketing strategy and operations improvement and includes an interim leadership practice. She serves as a board member for two non-profit organizations.
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