CPR crisis rolls on, pumped by corporate owner’s heartless mistakes


Police in Bakersfield, CA announced today that no criminal charges would be filed against a nurse at Glenwood Gardens who refused to perform CPR on a dying 87-year-old woman last week. That’s a good thing because her corporate employer, Brookdale Senior Living Inc., threw her under the bus yesterday.

Two blockbuster blows would have been too much for any one person to endure.

Tennessee-based Brookdale reversed itself, according to the Associated Press, and said the unidentified nurse had misinterpreted the company’s guidelines and was on voluntary leave while the case is investigated.

Meanwhile, the family of Lorainne Bayless said it was her desire to forgo resuscitation efforts and that she died of natural causes, which her family said was her “greatest wish,” the AP’s story reported.  The family said it has no intentions of suing the company or seeking punishment for its workers.

Brookdale ducked that bullet. But neither the specific assisted living facility involved, nor its corporate owner, which is the largest American company of its kind, have yet done the right thing. When you own hundreds of assisted living and retirement facilities, blaming one nurse [even if she was wrong] is not going to win you any friends.

And, staying largely silent 10 days after the Bayless death is faulty crisis management. It just prolongs the company’s crisis. If a week ago the CEO flew [commercial] to Bakersfield, described the policy, said it was under review and expressed remorse for the resident and sympathy for the nurse caught in the middle, this crisis would have been old news by last weekend.

Instead, stories continue to fly around and now that Brookdale’s name is out, the focus is shifting to corporate policy and inaction and away from the individual assisted-living location.

The Bayless family has a spokesperson and has done extremely well messaging its feelings and expressing its view of the whole situation. The family comes across as quick, active, responsive, transparent and effective. Maybe one could argue with Mrs. Bayless’s DNR order, but that was her choice and her family respected that.

Meanwhile, Brookdale and Glenwood, which presumably employ smart and capable public relations experts who have been no doubt hollering to open up and talk, remain silent. Their reputations fall by the day. Social media are still afire. Nursing conventions are lining up seminars on the topic. Hospitals and ambulance companies nationwide are taking multiple requests to teach CPR.

Part of the duck-and-cover thinking has to be tied to the company’s stock price, which is up 1.5 percent so far today, trading near a 52-week high. Given potential liability and with lawyers likely telling the CEO to be cautious, where’s the motivation to talk to the media?

It lies in the long-term brand damage, the dragging down of its reputation. Guaranteed every media outlet where there is a Brookdale facility, and in thousands of other towns and cities where similar facilities exist, administrators have been and will continue to be asked about this policy. If resident numbers fall, look in the mirror.

Hiding does not make this problem go away. Reporters will keep asking questions until they are answered.

Stay tuned. Ten days and counting.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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