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Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Southwest Airlines: Sorry Works! of the Sky; Can Your Hospital/Nursing Home Match?


Fascinating and incredibly important article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal: "The Minutes After Disaster Struck, How Southwest Airlines management put its emergency-response plan into action after the disaster of Flight 1380."  This article should be required reading for c-suite, risk, claims, legal, and patient relations in every hospital and nursing home. This article is everything we have been teaching at Sorry Works! for the last 14+ years.

How often does an airline accident with fatalities occur in the United States?  Once in a great while, right?  Yet, Southwest has a detailed crisis plan in place, holds regular training or "dry run" sessions with key people, and the plan snapped into action once they learned that their airplane was in trouble last week.  Now, how often do harm-causing medical errors happen in hospitals and nursing homes?  Too often, sometimes on a daily basis, correct?  Yet, how many hospitals and nursing homes have plans in place with trained people ready to be pro-active and compassionate to patients, families, and staff?  Not enough. 

I'll never forget speaking at a conference several years ago with IHI's Jim Conway, and Jim posed the following questions to the hospital executives in the room: "How many of you have plans to deal with a tornado or earthquake?  (every hand went up).  What about a fire or even a terrorist attack? (every hand went up again).  Now, what about a plan to deal with patients, families, and staff who just experienced a potential medical error?  (at best, a few hands were hesitantly raised).  Now, that's all have plans for the true "never events" -- tornados, terrorists attacks, etc -- but you don't have a plan or idea how you will handle the every day occurrences of medical errors." 

The Wall Street Journal article is a literal blue print for hospitals and nursing homes -- again, it's everything we've been teaching at Sorry Works! for 14+ years. Consider the following bullet points from the story:

  • Southwest Airlines regularly updates their crisis communications plan, and SW executives hold frequent exercises and full-scale drills at airports -- does your hospital even have a written disclosure plan that is understandable to staff?  Probably not.  Are your people trained to handle the communication and emotional aspects of adverse medical events?

  • When the accident occurred last week, SW execs were immediately notified and pulled out of a company meeting without haste.  The SW leadership knew right away.  Typically in hospitals and nursing homes the leadership doesn't learn about an event until the family complains, or, worse, a lawyer is calling.   

  • SW CEO Gary Kelly "quickly delivered a 40-second video apology."

  • SW had a "go team" of executives flown immediately to Philadelphia to assist passengers and families, and "everybody had a checklist."

  • Four SW employees flew to New Mexico to assist the family of the woman who died.

  • GET THIS...Southwest pulled all advertising from social often do hospitals continue to send PR magazines, fundraising solicitations, and even invoices/bills to patients and families who have experienced bad care? 

  • Southwest provided $5,000 to each passenger, $1,000 in travel vouchers, and met all other immediate needs WITHOUT requiring signed waivers.  It was compassion and good will, yet, people could sue if they wanted to (but most won't).   

  • Everything was done quickly.  Nobody sat on their hands.  There was no delay or bugled communications because SW had a plan and practiced it.   

    If you want to emulate Southwest Airlines, then consider purchasing the Sorry Works! Tool Kit.  Everything you need from development of a disclosure plan and policy to training staff and keeping disclosure alive in your organization is covered.  If you have other questions about disclosure & apology, please call 618-559-8168 or e-mail


    - Doug

    Doug Wojcieszak, Founder, Sorry Works!

Doug Wojcieszak