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Posted on 11.04.2014

Changing the Story: Texas Health’s Reputation Management Push

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has been getting clobbered in the news for its response to the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan. For weeks you couldn’t escape the stories and angry punditry about how the hospital initially misdiagnosed Duncan, despite the fact that he had a travel history and symptoms consistent with the disease. When two of Duncan’s nurses at the hospital were diagnosed with Ebola, the storm of negative coverage surged.

And then a few weeks ago, 60 Minutes led their Sunday evening broadcast with an emotional story about the nurses who cared for Duncan during his stay at the Dallas hospital. In 14 minutes, the story shifted the focus away from what the hospital did wrong to what it did right.

Here’s how correspondent Scott Pelley opened his report:

“You've heard a lot about the Dallas hospital that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in America. But you've never heard what actually happened from the people who fought for his life at the risk of their own. You're about to meet four nurses who treated Duncan from the time he came into the emergency room, to the moment that he died. The staff had been blindsided by a biomedical emergency that burst into their ER like a wildfire. Contrary to reports that the hospital bungled the response, the story the nurses tell sounds more like a heroic effort to stop an outbreak.”

See what he did there? “You’ve never actually heard” that the nurses “fought for his life at the risk of their own.” About how they were “blindsided” and “contrary to the reports,” it’s a story about a “heroic effort to stop an outbreak.”

Pelley goes on to interview the nurses about their experience treating Duncan. One held his hand as his condition worsened. They refused to see him differently any other patient they would treat, they explained.

Talk about reputation management! To me, this story does some important work for the hospital: It humanizes the caregivers who, as a group, had been vilified in the media. It instills a sense of confidence in the competence and compassion of its caregivers. What’s more, Pelley doesn’t miss an opportunity to point the finger at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—noting that its protocols for protective clothing were at first “deficient” and the hospital “on its own” equipped the staff with protective gear that left no skin exposed, several weeks before CDC made that its standard.

Of course, one sympathetic story won’t outweigh all the negative coverage about Texas Health’s Ebola response. But it’s certainly a good example of how to start changing the conversation in an effort to rebuild a damaged reputation.


Erin George is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Erin’s blogs here. Connect with Erin at erin@lovell.com or @ErinLawley.

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