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   MERS Crisis Communications Plan
   Healthcare/Community Hospital/The Americas/Borshoff

Challenge

On the morning of May 2, 2014, Borshoff received a call from Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, which was facing an international crisis – the first diagnosed case of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in the United States. The hospital was preparing for a media briefing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in just five hours, when the hospital’s identity would become public to media outlets around the world. There had already been media attention around the increase in the number of MERS cases among residents in Saudi Arabia, with 185 cases resulting in 68 deaths. Media interest would be intense. 

Response

Borshoff crisis communications professionals sprang into action, creating media and employee messaging, distributing statements to thousands of media contacts, providing media coaching, and coordinating interview requests with hospital administrators. Borshoff also assisted with the planning of the hospital’s news conference on May 5, which included Governor Mike Pence, and top representatives from the CDC, the Indiana State Department of Health and Community Hospital.

Results

Coverage of the hospital’s response to the MERS case was overwhelmingly positive as evidenced in this Washington Post headline: “How an Indiana hospital got it right when MERS showed up at the door.”

As noted in the article, “Perhaps the most difficult problem for the hospital was assuring the community after the news conference that the danger had been contained, Kumar said. For that, Community turned to an outside public relations firm for help, he said. By Monday, when officials were able to say that none of the 50 people exposed to the patient had shown signs of the virus, anxiety began to die down, he said. Now officials at the Dr. P. Phillips hospital in Orlando, who are experiencing the second U.S. MERS case, have asked Community Hospital for advice on how to handle relations with their surrounding area, he said.”

The case received more than 2,300 media hits totaling 1 billion media impressions from outlets such as CNN, CBS Evening News, ABC World News, NBC News Today Show, Fox Business Network, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The LA Times, The Associated Press, WebMD, Time Magazine and The Huffington Post, among others. Recently, Community Hospital was recognized for their award-winning crisis response.