If you have worked in healthcare for more than a few years, you have probably seen at least one crisis develop in your facility. Although every incident can become a crisis, there are some that happen that can have lasting effects for the facility and everyone it touches.
Crises can be from a natural disaster, human error, regulatory non-compliance, to equipment failure. Each as consequences ranging from effects on human lives to negatively affecting the both the institution’s reputation and its finances. What is common to all of these situations is how you and your team react to them. I have found common steps to ensure that you can react quickly, efficiently, and minimize the negative effects.
- Policies and Procedures. All too often, leadership recognizes that a crisis can happen, but few believe it can happen to them. Because of this denial, many leaders may read the administrative policies and procedures when they first come on board, yet not review or update them at least annually. It is extremely important to know your crisis plans and review them annually. The time to become familiar with you plan is not in the middle of a crisis.
- Drill, drill, drill. The old saying, practice makes perfect is critical in the middle of a crisis. Practicing not only a disaster drill such as a fire or bomb threat, but also when the Joint Commission or state representatives come in for an unannounced visit will go a long way toward calming the chaos. When everyone knows their role in the plan, everything goes much smoother. In addition, outsiders, such as inspectors or even the public, will gain a sense of calm and confidence in your team if everyone reacts according to plan.
- Be the leader. If you are the one responsible for leading the institution, everyone will be looking to you for clues on how to react. If you seem rattled or unsure, your staff will also be rattled and unsure. If you are sure and confident, the actions of your team will also confident and deliberate. If you are familiar with the plan and follow it, the crisis will play out more favorably than if you are unsure of roles of all of your team.
- Trust your team. They are there for a reason and should be experts in their roles. If you have practiced drills and ensured competence during a time of crisis, your team needs the space to do its job. Let them. It will go a long way to resolving the issue and building trust for the future.
- Communicate openly and honestly. There is a time and place to communicate what is going on in the facility, but when you do, and I recommend that the leader of the facility be the spokesperson, being as open and transparent as possible. This can help stop rumors and defuse a potential media frenzy. The same message must be transmitted through all channels whether that is media, memos, or social media. Different messages will create confusion and distrust.
- Update often. If the crisis is one day, one week, or ongoing, keep everyone updated. A lack of communication creates the opportunity for rumor and innuendo.
- Finally, debrief. When the crisis has passed, perform a thorough analysis of what happened and institute corrective measures.
You will experience a crisis in your institution. How you prepare and act during the crisis will define you as much as your success or failures as a leader.
Josh Putter is currently a consultant with DCCS Consulting. According to the company’s website, “DCCS is a full-service consulting firm with a strong foundation in healthcare leadership focused on responding to the exponential changes affecting today's healthcare.”
Prior to his work at DCCS, Mr. Putter was President of Steward Health Care in Boston; Division President, Division Five (Florida), with Health Management Associates, Inc. in Naples, Florida; CEO of the Charlotte Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda, Florida; CEO of the Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma, in Durant; CEO of Highlands Regional Medical Center in Sebring, Florida; CEO of Brazos Valley Medical Center in Bryan/College Station, Texas; and Assistant Executive Director of Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas. He also spent 2 years as an Owner Operator of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, in Delray Beach, Florida.