Care homes have generally taken a reactive approach to PR and communications, but with aging and related care becoming increasingly prominent in public debate, it’s time for care specialists to get on the front foot.
Here, we outline some of the simple steps care homes can take to start a more positive and proactive conversation with the public and wider stakeholders.
The care home sector has been beleaguered by bad publicity in recent years, with all-too-regular reports of bad care making it perfect media fodder. It is natural, given the nature of their work that care homes are under scrutiny – the delivery of healthcare is always a sensitive issue. However, we’ve reached a point where the faults of the few have overshadowed the great work delivered daily by the care homes sector.
A recent report by the Alzeimer’s Society found that 74 per cent of family members would recommend their loved one’s care home, while 68 per cent rate dementia care as good; indicating a discrepancy between fact and perception. Yet stories of good practice and innovative care rarely get told in the media, leading to a lack of public understanding and knowledge as to the important and increasing role of care homes in society.
That isn’t to say there aren’t challenges. The sector is undoubtedly under greater pressure than ever, as the UK population ages at a dramatic rate. The number of over 65s in the UK is expected to rise from around 10m today to 16.1m in 2035, with analysts predicting this age group will make up half of the population by 2080. Meanwhile figures show that 80 per cent of residents in care homes now have dementia or significant memory loss, making their care needs even more complex.
All the while, regular and unannounced inspections from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have further ramped up the pressure on care home owners and staff, with findings publicly available on the CQC website and media now ready and waiting to jump on poor results.
With all these factors in play, it is time for care homes to take control of their own destinies and give the vital and inspiring work they do an opportunity to shine. Proactive communications and reputation management are essential to ensuring the public and other stakeholders are receiving the information they need to make informed choices, while also building positive goodwill for the future. Only through transparency and dialogue can the care home sector really become sustainable for the years to come.
A brighter future
The intense scrutiny of care homes in recent years has understandably led to an opaque and defensive approach to communications within the sector. But far from improving matters, this approach has only contributed to the public’s disquiet about aspects of elder care. Research shows that that 70 per cent of people are scared of moving into a care home in the future, while only 25 per cent of the public would consider volunteering in a care home.
Perceptions and expectations of care homes are extremely low and ignorance like this can be poisonous, affecting an organisation’s relationships with its residents, family members, partners and staff, impacting on recruitment and retention, and ultimately leading to a cycle of negativity.
To break this cycle, care homes must start shouting about their successes and taking pride publicly in their good work. There are numerous examples of treatments and care that are not only innovative but also fascinating, including animal and music therapies, themed rooms and memory boxes, as well as committed staff going above and beyond the call of duty. These examples should be highlighted, thus providing the public with a more positive view about aging and elder care.
Care homes are a crucial part of the healthcare system, but one that the majority of the population would rather not think about. Why not turn this on its head and show people that care homes don’t have to be scary; they are an acceptable and palatable part of life?
The recent National Care Home Open Day took a step in the right direction, showing the compassionate, kind and inspiring care that goes on all over the country. Care homes must now harness this sentiment and make it their default approach to communications in the future. A shift in attitudes will have untold benefits for staff recruitment, retention and performance and, most importantly, improve the wellbeing of care home residents for the long-term.
Vision to reality
Of course, changing perceptions takes time. However, there are some important steps that every care home should be taking now to ensure they are profiled in the most positive light, while managing the bad news as effectively as possible.
Maximising positive news – Good news about care homes can provide a refreshing change for regional and local media, industry trade journals, plus broader social affairs titles. It also provides fantastic content for your website and social media. Whether an open day, celebrating the work of a long-standing staff member, highlighting innovative treatment, or an interesting resident, good communications can help identify and bring these stories to life.
Joining the social media conversation – In the digital age, disgruntled customers are more likely to vent on Twitter or Facebook than talk to you about a potential issue. This means that bad news spreads quickly and your reputation could be damaged before you’ve even heard about it. While you can’t stop people complaining, you can ensure you are amongst the first to know and take steps to limit the damage. If you don’t have social media profiles and monitoring processes in place, you are missing out on a crucial engagement and issues management tool.
Issues management – Issues and mistakes can happen in any organisation, in any sector, no matter how much work has gone into avoiding them. But it is important to face up to this fact and ensure you are ready to respond in the right way when things do go wrong. Communicating quickly, sensitively and honestly, while showing how the situation is being rectified, can be the difference between saving your reputation and making things worse.
Crisis planning – The situations that nobody wants to think about are the ones that are most important to prepare for. A thorough and detailed crisis plan will ensure that your spokespeople and staff know what to do if the worst should happen, outlining possible scenarios and plans for response. A quick reaction is imperative, providing the chance to give your side of the story and minimise the long-term damage to your reputation.
Media training – Talking to the media can be intimidating and it’s easy to say the wrong thing when under pressure. In a crisis situation, a journalist could telephone any of your staff out of the blue asking difficult questions. Media training will ensure you know and your staff know how to handle this and give you the upper hand.
It is no doubt a challenging period for the care home sector, but it can also be an exciting one. With such an important role to play today and for future generations to come, it is time care homes came out of the shadows and showed their true value – to individuals, their families and society in general.
Flagship Consulting has extensive experience helping care homes, including the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) and Quantum Care, to manage their reputations and promote their good news. For further information about how we can help your organisation, please contact Jackie Murphy or Adrian King on 020 7886 8440 or at firstname.lastname@example.org