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Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Hospital's PR Weasel Words After Tech's Lies

Perry Hospital in Perry, GA experienced a medical tragedy followed by damaging news stories splattered all over the media, including CNN and the NBC Today Show, and the situation was made worse by PR weasel words.  Links for NBC and CNN are below. In summary, Perry Hospital technician Rachael Rapraeger lied about the results from over 1,200 mammograms.  In her plea deal with a criminal court, Ms. Rapraeger said she got behind in her work and created negative readings for over 1,200 mammograms....mammograms that were never reviewed by physicians.  Patients were lied to.  Ten patients actually had positive readings, and two have since died.   Ms. Rapraeger apologized for her conduct and was sentenced to six months in jail, 9.5 years of probation, a $12,500 fine, and is banned from the healthcare profession for 10 years.

Perry Hospital is currently facing 30 lawsuits from Ms. Rapraeger's actions, and the hospital issued the following statement after her plea deal: "We are pleased this component of Ms. Rapraeger's unfortunate action is concluded." 

Huh?  Really?  That was the best they could do?   "Unfortunate action?" Can you just imagine some woman who had been lied but she and her husband decided to let go of the situation but then she watches the news and hears this dumb statement?   Ring, ring, ring goes the phone at the lawyer's office.   Facebook gets lit up, and she can't quit talking about that "stupid, insensitive Perry Hospital" at the Friday evening Bunco game with all her girlfriends from the neighborhood.   You know, "the girlfriends" (wives, stay-at-home moms, etc)....the people who make the medical decisions in their households?

And what are potential jurors thinking about the hospital when they read/hear "unfortunate action" to describe the situation?  Absolutely stupid.

I am sure some PR pro with the help of a gaggle of lawyers wordsmithed this doozy, and it really stinks.  Sorry guys, the case is what it is.  Why continue to anger people?   Why continue to do damage to the hospital's reputation?  Interestingly, I visited the Perry Hospital website (owned by Houston Healthcare) and not a word about this case.  Nothing.   Oh sure, there were plenty of press releases and announcements about how they are a Top 100 Hospital and their doctors are amazingly awesome, but nothing about this damaging case.

The hospital needs to run to this problem with absolute authenticity.   Try this for size:

"We are glad Ms. Rapraeger is being held responsible for her criminal behavior.  We are extremely sorry for the trauma Ms. Rapraeger caused to our patients and their families, and we look forward to working with these families to meet their needs in a fair and expedited fashion.  Moreover, we will strive to make sure our systems and processes are improved so this type of behavior never happens again.  We will work very hard to restore the community's trust in our hospital.  We are very sorry this happened." 

That's authentic....that can help the hospital, the patients and families, and the community move forward.  Mistakes and even criminal acts happen but folks can be understanding, forgiving, and willing to move forward so long as the offending party is accountable.  Weasel words only prolong the anger and further diminish trust.

As we've discussed many times in this space, you need to get all your stakeholders on board with your disclosure program --- this includes your PR people and lawyers.  The time to get these folks in the fold is NOW, not after an event has happened.

Here is the link for NBC Today Show - http://www.today.com/video/today/54989210#54989210 - and here is the link for the CNN Story: http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/16/health/georgia-false-mammogram-cancer-sentencing/.

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