COVID-19 is not sparing health care workers, and as such a strong healthcare crisis communications strategy is imperative. There are two main questions to consider:
1.) How do you communicate internally and/or externally when healthcare workers become infected?
2.) How do you address social media issues/attacks when COVID related incidents happen?
Nationally, about 2.23 million have tested positive for coronavirus- if you haven’t had a worker fall ill yet, odds are someone will before this is over. Should you disclose an employee’s illness to the patients exposed to a sick employee? How should you communicate the exposure to internal staff? The logistics are particularly difficult for health care providers that routinely have multiple transient interactions with patients, such as laboratory patient service centers, home health nurses, and walk-in medical clinics.
Unfortunately, there is little-to-no specific public health guidance addressing whether, when and how health care providers should disclose to patients that they have been treated by a person who likely has COVID-19. This leaves providers with cobbling together a policy or procedure from the principles and directives of generally applicable public health guidelines.
Should I Disclose the Employee Infection to Patients?
You operate an urgent care clinic. Your nurse becomes symptomatic and later tests positive for coronavirus. Should you report this to the patients that were seen by this nurse?
Practically speaking, the issue comes down to whether you can make the disclosure in a meaningful amount of time. If you can make the disclosure within 12-13 days since the employee began to show symptoms, the disclosure may be helpful to those exposed. Disclosures in this time allow the patient the opportunity to follow applicable guidance on symptom self-monitoring, get tested, and ensure that they are following proper protocol to minimize the rick to others.
If you are considering a disclosure to exposed patients may also be well served to consult with local and state health departments with jurisdiction over the area where the employee resides. Many state and local health departments are running active COVID-19 surveillance and investigation operations. It’s possible that the relevant health department will have received information relating to the employee’s condition and have taken action to notify persons exposed to him or her.
Should I Disclose the Employee Infection to the Employees that Worked with that Individual?
Dear Team:We regret to inform you that a team member has tested positive for COVID-19. We are unable to disclose the identity of the individual, but we want to assure you that we will continue to support them as they heal, and we will welcome them back to join you at work once it is safe to do so. If you worked on [dates/times], you may have been exposed.
In order to keep yourself and your coworkers safe, please continue to self-assess daily for COVID-19 symptoms (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea). If you have any of these symptoms, please inform management, and do not return to work until you have received two negative COVID-19 tests.We are also continuing to take the following steps to help ensure, as best as possible, your health and safety here at work:
- You are required to wear masks or other facial coverings at all times while indoors
- You should strive to maintain six feet of social distance from others whenever feasible
- You must wash your hands and use hand sanitizer after touching high-contact surfaces and between patients
- You should self-assess your health before reporting to work, and stay home if you have any symptoms
- Lunch rooms and other common areas are closed until further notice
- You are responsible for cleaning your work station at the end of your shift
- We will continue to sanitize the entire workplace on a weekly basisAdditionally, we had the facility deep cleaned and sanitized prior to allowing anyone to reenter after we learned of the positive test.Your health and safety is our top priority, and we are constantly monitoring and assessing the situation to ensure that we’re taking every possible step to prevent the spread of this infection within the workplace. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact [name] at [email/phone].
What Should I Do If Accusations Emerge Online?
Many medical clinics are discovering that staff members may not adhere 100% to safety protocol. Patient awareness of safety protocol is high, and if staff fail to comply it’s likely that a patient will
complain to management, or worse, take the complaint online.
It’s imperative that you impress upon staff the importance of adhereing to safety protocol, both for their health as well as the reputation of the practice. If accusations emerge online, management should investigate the accusation, as well as review protocol with healthcare staff. If there are repeated issues, it may be prudent to have staff sign off on receiving and agreeing to the protocol. Signed documents can be used in employment disputes should you need to terminate employment.
Your healthcare marketing agency or reputation management company should be monitoring these social channels for mentions of your practice. When something is noticed, a response may be warranted if the accusation is severe or if it appears that a lack of response might allow the accusations to spiral out of control. A thoughtful, well-timed response can save you hours of headache and heartache.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing the relevant issues. The nature, scale and scope of the practice issue will present practical concerns and limitations that must be considered. If you find yourself in a situation that requires crisis communications, please reach out to speak to our sales team about putting together a strategy or immediate response.