As we continue to battle COVID-19, you may feel like you’re being inundated with information and communications regarding the virus and related guidelines. But are you receiving information from the community that’s responsible for caring for your senior loved one?
At this point, responding to COVID-19 is no longer an “if,” but a “when” for senior care providers. The virus continues to spread, and our senior population is most at risk. This means that clear communication with residents, care teams, and families is more important than ever. Many communities are facing scrutiny from angry families and displeased staff when it comes to how they’ve handled the virus. Most notable among these complaints is an extreme lack of communication. With that in mind, here are some tips to help your facility exemplify clear, frequent communication with everyone in your community.
Be Prepared Before Cases Show Up
Being proactive is critical in pandemic situations. If you don’t already have one, you should form a communications team dedicated to keeping residents, employees, and families informed. Guidelines and information surrounding COVID-19 are ever-changing and must be evaluated on a daily basis.
Having the most current and accurate information will help your team create appropriate strategies for coping with the virus when it affects someone in your community. Planning for “when,” not “if,” means you should also have a plan in case quarantine is required. Your plan should be an extension of your emergency or pandemic plan, and your team should understand it enough to act on it immediately.
There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Communication
In our current situation, there’s no such thing as over-communication. You should repeatedly share what your facility is doing to prevent the spread of cases in your community. Use various methods (e.g. email, social media, your website, and traditional mail) to communicate updated visitation policies, health screenings, PPE protocols, enhanced housekeeping and disinfecting routines, and any other actions your team is taking that aren’t part of your normal routine. Additionally, ensure that your team understands the exact process or procedures they need to follow for screening or reporting symptoms, whether their own or for a resident they’re working with.
Monitor the Local Area
Your administrator and communications team should be monitoring updates in the news, on social media, and from local government and health officials. Do what you can to follow cases that have been reported at nearby facilities or locations. Keeping tabs on local activity can help you adjust your response based on how other organizations have handled COVID-19.
Have a Draft
Don’t wait until your community is in the thick of things to discuss appropriate and transparent language that should be used in case of media inquiries. Take time to create a variety of approved statements that you can reference at a moment’s notice, should you find that you’re overwhelmed with media statement requests.
Be Timely, Consistent, and Transparent
It seems that where there’s one case of COVID-19, there will soon be others. Time is of the essence when it comes to disclosing the facts about an outbreak to your team and your residents’ family members. Wait too long to share important information, and you’ll find that you have no control over the narrative that makes it into the public eye. Be consistent with your updates and use transparent and accurate language to help calm anxieties and fears.
Consider dedicating an email or phone number to handling questions or concerns from residents, family members, and coworkers. Remember that those affected by the situation in your community should be the first to hear any updates and that they should hear them directly from you. Find a way to make the communication process quick and efficient so that your community isn’t hearing rumors or misinformation from external sources.
Know That Your News Travels
Know that any information you’re providing to your community will most likely travel through the grapevine and into the public. Treat all information as though it is already public knowledge by following HIPAA precautions, using transparent and accurate language, and being consistent in your messaging, no matter the outlet (social media, news, website, etc.).
We hope this advice is a helpful starting point in preparing you to weather the storm of COVID-19. These tips only cover the basics when it comes to protecting your community’s reputation, but we hope you take them to heart and use them to create a proactive and comprehensive pandemic response plan.
Our final tip is to take a much-needed deep breath during this trying time. Leading a pandemic response in long-term care will be nothing short of chaotic, stressful, and exhausting. Preparing yourself to weather the storm is as important as preparing your team, and managing your stress will prove extremely important as COVID-19 rages on. Be kind to yourself and others, be transparent and consistent, and be strong and carry on. We’re all in this together!