How Senior Care Facility Public Relations and Marketing Teams Should Respond to COVID-19

Courtney Malengo, founder, Spark + Buzz Communications

Courtney Malengo, founder, Spark + Buzz Communications

The COVID-19 pandemic means rapidly changing situations, and senior care facilities need to be prepared to keep pace with this changing environment. Facilities’ public relations, marketing, and communications teams now play a more important role than ever.

By taking some steps to prepare these teams, facilities can ensure that they’re able to provide a prompt and appropriate response to the events that may unfold.

Establish an Excellent Communications and PR Team

One of the best ways that facilities can prepare to respond promptly during the COVID-19 pandemic is to take the time to assemble an excellent team of professionals they can rely on.

Courtney Malengo oversaw marketing, PR, and communications for a multi-site senior living provider for over a decade. As the founder of Spark + Buzz Communications, she urges facilities to prepare with a talented team. “Whether you are relying on an in-house team or an agency partner, make sure they’ve had experience with crisis communications. Even the most seasoned of teams can struggle during an unprecedented pandemic,” she notes.

It’s also beneficial for facilities to connect with external communications professionals who can increase their in-house capacity, particularly during times of crisis when communications departments may be spread thin. “The benefit is that an external resource can help you strategically assess the landscape and see things you may not have considered,” Malengo explains. “The key to how well your organization will weather the storm hinges on the capabilities of that communications team and your organization’s response and messaging.”

Once a team is established, the team should select one spokesperson to share its COVID-19-related messaging. Malengo suggests that this spokesperson “should be someone who has experience with media interviews and does well on camera, with the ability to stay on message, regardless of the questions thrown their way.”

In addition to putting together a talented team, Malengo states that a facility also needs to establish appropriate channels and strategies to communicate the messages that the team develops. By taking the time to determine which channels are most appropriate for different audiences, a team will be prepared to move quickly and effectively present its messaging when needed.

Develop Appropriate Plans

Laura Gifford, director of marketing & communications, Providence Place Senior Living

Laura Gifford, director of marketing & communications, Providence Place Senior Living

Having specific communications plans pre-developed also ensures that a facility can take prompt and appropriate action in response to developments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laura Gifford, Director of Marketing & Communications at Providence Place Senior Living, recommends that facilities develop both an annual communications plan and a crisis communications plan.

According to Gifford, an annual communications plan “is extremely helpful to create avenues of feedback for your outreach channels. This allows your teams, customers and the greater community contacts to reach out to in an efficient manner during uncertain times. A two-way street is extremely important.”

A crisis communication plan also allows all internal teams to work cohesively and promptly during crisis periods. Gifford explains that this plan includes details about how to go about communicating and disseminating difficult messages, and it’s best to develop it outside of times of crisis. She notes that Providence Place’s crisis management plan in response to COVID-19 includes the following steps:

  • Confirm diagnosis with hospital or medical staff, family contacts, and Department of Health.
  • Review staff schedules and living arrangements to determine anyone in direct contact with COVID-19 positive resident/team member. All should be quarantined for 14 days to determine if symptoms arise.
  • Within 24 hours, all team members and residents/resident families are notified via email of positive case and precautionary steps taken by entire community (adhering to HIPPA laws). Direct questions and inquiries are handled via email, phone or other means as necessary by communications, leadership, and community representatives.
  • Updates to be provided to all contacts as information is available (at least every 4-5 days). All questions and concerns are addressed as received by communications team or community team.

The more work that a facility can put into preparing their PR and communications teams, the faster and more appropriate they’ll be able to respond to evolving COVID-19 events. With procedures and drafted information in place, these teams will be able to release consistent, accurate information in a reassuring way.


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