The team at Ellis Jones believe there's a lot we can all learn from the aged care industry when it comes to avoiding, planning for and managing crises.
Although we would rather forget, the recent siege at Sydney’s Martin place reminded us that anything can happen at any time. We were reminded that no place will ever be perfectly secure.
When events such as these arise, questions enter minds about security procedures.
Sometimes, however, we let it go. We still want our cafes and other community spaces to have open doors. The perpetrator’s behaviour could not easily have been prevented. It was arbitrary and unpredictable.
Should the Lindt cafe have done more to secure its premises? The media did not point the finger and rightly so, a cafe in the middle of Sydney is a public space.
On the other hand, if there is a crisis in the aged care industry, the media and the public are not so forgiving. The security issues facing the aged care industry may not make the front page of a newspaper but they are common. Assault, robbery, theft, fire and accidents are all issues and crises that happen. So are disease outbreaks, like listeria, financial crises and issues relating to resident management.
And these myriad issues are only going to increase. As the Government’s recent Intergenerational Report pointed out, the average life expectancy of a person born today is now over 90 years. By 2055, there will be 2 million Australians aged over 85 and they will be supported by a dwindling working population. In fact, the number of working age people supporting each member of our older generation is expected to fall from 4.5 today to 2.7 in 2055.
These inevitable demographic realities are going to stretch the aged care industry to the limit.
When you bring all of this together, it’s easy to see why crisis and issues management are such an important part of the aged care industry. And why this industry, in particular, has to take an incredibly professional approach to crisis management.
Stakeholders will continue to support the organisation if they know that it truly cares for the health and wellbeing of its residents. It is in their interest to support the organisation. If the business fails, lives are at risk.
However, unlike the cafe siege, the media and the community will point the finger at an aged care facility’s security measures, procedures and protocols. What did they do to ensure that all people entering and leaving their facility were accounted for? What procedures did they have in place to protect against fire? Aged care facilities naturally house more vulnerable members of our community, who are less able bodied and capable to defend themselves against attack.
Not only will its reputation be at stake, the community will question the facility's safe operation and its ability to protect and provide a secure environment for our elders.
So, in the face of this, what do good aged care operators do to avoid and, where necessary, manage crises?
And what can the rest of us learn from them?
Good aged care operators will always be thinking several steps ahead.
They realise that you can survive negative media coverage and poor reputation if you have strong relationships. As a result, they’ll be securing written endorsements from opinion leaders, such as MPs and local identities, for their good work.
They’ll also have well-articulated strategies and plans for engagement with community, health services, volunteers, donors and government.
At the same time, these operators will have an issues-management plan in place. This plan will map likely issues, identify all stakeholders, define scenarios, outline response processes and articulate roles. It will be aligned with emergency and communications processes so that, when every second counts, they complement one another, rather than competing. And these operators will clearly define all aspects of issues management: people, systems, communication channels, materials, monitoring and messaging.
Ultimately, this planning will help them make effective, stress-free decisions when it counts.
At the same time, their CEO and/or senior leadership will be ready to face the media. They know how to be calm, well-informed and wise to journalistic tactics.
These operators also know that the company must lead the response. The CEO must be visible, if not to the media, then to stakeholders. They’ll be ready to talk to the families of residents involved; speak to them individually on the day of the incident.
They will monitor the media, in-bound calls from stakeholders and engagement on social media to ensure that each is assessed for impact and, where necessary, adequate responses given.
And they will never stop communicating with staff. Issues can be protracted, starting in the facility and ending in a court room years later. Staff, acting professionally and within regulations, can be left exposed. Good operators will stay by their side… and the rest of the workforce will thank the company for it.
Finally, the more professional aged care operators will put in place a regime of regular communication. The initial purpose will be updating stakeholders on progress; later it will become a valuable platform for ongoing engagement and other activities, such as fundraising and marketing.
They will establish milestones for promoting company success and demonstrating the competence of staff. This creates opportunities for families and residents to tell the story for them.
And they will keep monitoring at regular intervals. In certain situations, they will be looking at references to the company that come up on search engines. Strategies may be required to push negative coverage deeper into the web.
Why do so few businesses have issues management plans in place? Are they so certain that crisis won’t affect their operations?
An issues management strategy and action plan enables any organisation to respond quickly and effectively. In the end, whether you work for an aged care facility or any other business, families want to know that their loved ones are safe, healthy and secure.
So build confidence in your business. And control the agenda.
ABOUT ELLIS JONES
Ellis Jones is an integrated communications, creative and management consulting agency with expertise in business strategy, market research, brand identity, public relations, social media, design and website development.
It is leading the development of shared value as a business model and practice in Australia, establishing and managing cross sector partnerships that deliver both economic and social returns.
For further information, visit www.ellisjones.com.au.
In issues and crises management, areas of expertise include:
- Sanctions applied by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency (Aged Care Quality Agency) and other effects of non-compliance with regulations
- Rape and/or assault charges against carers, residents or family members
- Fraudulent activity by management and staff
- Disease outbreaks
- Real or contrived media tip-offs from disgruntled family members or ex-employees.
For further information regarding issues management, read here: ellisjones.com.au/?s=issues+management.