When your assisted living community is in the midst of a crisis, that is not the time to realize that you don’t have a crisis management plan in place. If you made it this far without a formal plan for crisis communication for your assisted living community, it’s time to get to work!
There are many crisis scenarios that can happen in senior living – natural disasters, disease outbreak, data breaches, or resident mistreatment. While these scenarios vary significantly, a solid crisis communication plan will guide your community through any type of unfortunate event. Crisis communication can be all-encompassing and includes multiple facets but at its core, your crisis management plan should start with three steps:
- Assemble a Response Team
- Identify the Situation
- Communicate Honestly & Accurately
Assemble a Response Team
A response team, with representatives from all areas of your community, will be tasked with gathering information and getting accurate messages to the right audiences during a time of crisis. It’s important to have your response team in place well before a crisis hits, so they are ready and prepared to take action. It’s also important to choose team members who can react quickly and calmly in high-pressure situations.
Include individuals to fulfill these roles:
- Legal Counsel
- Fact Gatherer
- Family Liaison
- Media Liaison
- Media Spokesperson
- Subject Expert
- Team Facilitator
- Decision Owner
As you gather your response team, it’s also time to make sure you are up-to-date on your state’s expectations of emergency supplies – the amount of food and water you are required to have on hand for emergency situations. Additionally, if you don’t have one already, you should have a plan for emergency shelter. This entails a written agreement with a nearby hotel or another senior living community that is willing to partner with you to provide shelter, if necessary.
Identify the Situation
When a situation develops into a crisis there are important questions you need to ask and necessary information to gather:
- What happened?
- What caused the problem?
- Who was affected (residents, families, caregivers)?
- How does the situation affect these audiences?
- What are the written policies and were they followed?
- How did your staff respond?
A complete understanding of the crisis will help you identify proper solutions and work towards repairing any damage done. You can also feel confident that you are presenting the proper and complete information to your stakeholders.
Communicate Honestly & Accurately
Finally, you’ll need to establish a procedure for notifying the appropriate audiences who have been impacted by the crisis – residents, families, staff member, the surrounding community, and even the media. Share information as accurately and honestly as you can, at the moment, and continue to make updates as new information is gathered.
In times of crisis, speculation and the rumor mill will work overtime. In your attempts to communicate about the issue at hand, you may be faced with the following challenges: 1) false allegations, with no factual basis or 2) partially fact-based situations that are worsened by false allegations. False information or half-truths are exactly why it’s crucial to provide factually accurate information as often as you can throughout the process.
Managing communications during a crisis is complex. Our mantra is: you can’t plan your crisis but you can plan for your crisis.
Utilize Senior Living U’s Crisis Communications Manual for more insight on how to create a preparedness plan for the future, reduce negative publicity, and learn more about a crisis’ long-term effects on the community.