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All organizations face crisis of different natures and scales at one time or another and how the organizations responds to the crisis may well determine its future success or failure. Devlin (2006) states that it is the responsibility of an organization through its public relations office to ensure that the organization recovers gracefully from a crisis and that this recovery occurs in a timely manner.
This paper will analyze the role that public relations played in the recovery from the over-dosage of premature babies’ incident by the Methodist Hospital. The success of the response by the hospital will be reviewed and anything that may have been done differently noted.
The case in question involves the death of a number of babies as a result of a medical error in the Methodist Hospital in Indiana. A total of six premature babies were given an overdose of heparin due to an inventory error. As a result of this, there was a wide public uproar as the relatives of some of the deceased babies expressed their discontent and anger over the incident.
The hospital crisis was further heighten by the appearance of the relatives of one of the dead babies on national television (Indiana News, 2006b). The relatives expressed their anger over the incident and blamed the death of their baby on the misconduct of the hospital staff whom they claimed should have known better than to deliver the wrong dosage to their baby.
How the Hospital Responded
The hospital was quick to respond to the issue and it gave details of the error that had led to the death of the premature babies. It took responsibility for the actions of its medical personnel and acknowledged that human and procedural errors were the cause of the overdoses that resulted in the fatalities. The hospital CEO also pointed out that the fact that the babies were very premature may have contributed to their death (Jones, 2006). However, he noted that it was the huge influx of the drug that led to their death.
Since an oversight on the part of the nurses is what had led to the wrong doses, the hospital enacted new policies that would require a minimum of two nurses to validate heparin doses so as to avoid any future administration of wrong doses.
The nurses who had administered the wrong dosages were also given counseling so as to help them come to term with their actions and help them return to normalcy and continue serving the community. The report also noted that hospital staff had met with the families of the affected babies and offered their apologies for the incident.
Why it was Necessary to Respond
The response of the hospital was necessary for a number of reasons. To begin with, the public needed information on the crisis. The response was also needed to disseminate information to the public. Being one of Indiana’s largest hospitals, the error at the Methodist Hospital had attracted wide public attention and everyone wanted to know what was going on.
Theodore and Webber (2006) report that the hospital’s spokesman kept the public up to date with news of how the affected babies were faring and also in case a fatality occurred. The official news provided by the hospital which was credible and truthful became the primary source for the public. By being the major source of information on the issue, the hospital ensured that sensational gossip did not become the primary source of information for the public on the issue.
The hospital had admitted that it was its traditional procedures of stocking vials from the inventory to the drug cabinet that had resulted in the fatal error. For the public to be reassured that such errors would never occur again, the hospital had to make major changes to the old system. To this end, the hospital stated that it would not keep vials of the adult doses of heparin (10,000 units) in its inventory (Indiana News, 2006).
The response also helped to put the public’s mind at ease. The hospital took full responsibility for the error with the CEO stating that “the blame for our errors falls upon this institution; a weakness in our own system has been exposed” (Pinto, 2006). In anticipation of the public questioning whether the error was not only limited to the premature babies, the hospital took the time to clarify that infant doses had not been given to adult patients (Jones, 2006).
How the Response promoted the view of the hospital
The hospital was keen to demonstrate that it had learnt from the mistake and would take measures to ensure that such an error never occurred again. For example, all employees were expected to sign a document on the importance of correct drug administration so as to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring patience safety in future (Indiana News, 2006).
A senior figure in the hospital administration, the president of the organization which owns the Methodist Hospital, reassured the public that this error was an isolated case and it would not pose any risk to other babies who were being treated at the hospital. The view of the hospital was further advanced by revelations that errors occur in a number of hospitals over the country and that technology was used to try and reduce the number of this errors (Pinto, 2006).
Outcome of Response
The public’s positive perception of the hospital was encouraged by the response. The fact that the top management of the hospital was willing to go on record accepting responsibility for the deaths of the two babies showed that the facility has integrity.
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Emphasis was placed on the fact that it was a veteran technician who accidentally stocked the drug cabinet with the wrong dosage of heparin (Theodore & Webber, 2006). Such a revelation demonstrates that the error was not cased by the hospital employing incompetent staff but rather by an honest mistake on the part of the seasoned pharmacy technician.
The public would like to be reassured that such an accident would never be allowed to happen again. As a result of the response, information about the hospital’s new measures to avoid a repeat of the tragedy was disseminated to the public. The only way for this to occur was through a thorough change of the hospitals system and the response detailed how the hospital had gotten rid of the old system and replaced it with a new more thorough system.
An investigation by the Indianapolis Police Department ascertained that the fatal errors were accidental in nature and that the nurses who were responsible for the mistakes had not done it intentionally (Pinto, 2006). The radical changes implemented by the hospital ensured the public that the same error would never occur again therefore restoring trust in the facility.
How I would have handled the Response
If I were in charge of the public relations of the hospital, there are a number of things I would have done differently. I would have placed some emphasis on the long successful relationship that the hospital has had with the community. I would also have placed emphasis on how the hospital has always been keen to safeguard the interest of the patients.
With such a background, the public would be more inclined to view the death of the two babies as a tragic accident. By reminding the public that patient interest has always been the Methodist Hospital’s driving force, the publics would be put at ease in spite of the incident.
Expressing concern for the public will result in a better perception of the organization by the public. With this in mind, I would have ensured that the public is constantly reminded that the hospital is working overtime not only to resolve the current crisis but also to ensure that future patient safety is observed.
This paper set out to review the crisis that followed the over dosing of premature babies in the Methodist Hospital. It has been noted that the response made by the hospital was very appropriate and yielded good results. A positive in the hospital’s handling of the situation was that it did not attempt to downplay the issue and publicized its responses as much as it could.
Future speculations that the hospital tried to hide the problem by withholding information from the public could therefore not arise. The primary concern in the crisis was the safety of the consumers and the public at large and since the hospital addressed this very efficiently, the level of damage from the crisis was limited and the organizations reputation was not badly damaged.
Devlin, S. E. (2006). Crisis Management Planning and Execution, NY: CRC Press.
Indiana News (2006). Hospital Changes Procedures After Babies’ Fatal Overdoses. Web.
Indiana News (2006). Infant’s Family Speaks Out Following Hospital Deaths. Web.
Jones, K. (2006). Heparin Overdosage Kills Two Premature Babies at Methodist Hospital. Web.
Pinto, B. (2006). Hospital Procedures Questioned After Death of Two Babies. Web.
Theodore, K. & Webber, T. (2006). Third baby dies after error at Indiana hospital. Web.