CEO At Center of Meningitis Outbreak Speaks

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media , October 19, 2012

By that, she means erroneous reports by local media, for example, which initially tied the crisis to a viral meningitis case in the area, suggesting that the hospital—and its staff—may have been at fault.

"The staff knew it wasn't accurate, but that was a psychological blow," she says. "There's an adrenaline rush when these things happen, and it does affect staff. They need to talk about it."

Several meetings were scheduled with staff to make clear the facts of the story.

"You need the ability to say here's the talking points you can address with your family, who might be worried about you," she says. "People were picking up pieces of the story and they needed to feel confident."

While Saint Thomas has regained its footing and Rudolph says a sense of normality is returning, patients are still being treated at the hospital for meningitis associated with the injections and will be for some time.

In hindsight, which Rudolph says she can afford right now, she would have made at least one major change to the way the administrative team, including herself, handled the crisis.

"I would have immediately grabbed an administrative person and had them pull a chronological list of what had occurred that day relating to the crisis," she says. "We did that in spots, but things evolve fast. I would have said, ‘you're designated to be the record keeper and check in several times a day with team leads,' because it was so multidimensional."

That's because accurate communication is of the utmost importance, behind only patient safety and care, during a crisis, she says.

"I'm still spending more time walking the halls, talking with people and being able to hear their side of the story," she says, noting that her calendar is still cleared. "You clear your calendar and can be anywhere you need to be to make connections. Make it your priority."

Philip Betbeze is senior leadership editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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