United States: Ebola Fears Offer Opportunities To Build Trust

Last Updated: November 3 2014
Article by James M. Weaver

Ebola has arrived in the United States. Not so much as the long-dreaded pandemic, but as a perception of vulnerability and unpreparedness that incubates a real sense of fear among the our citizens generally, and healthcare professionals specifically. One need look no further for evidence that this virus has entered the collective conscious of 320 million Americans than the nearly universal jerk of heads in response to a sneeze on an airplane.  It doesn't matter if a patient with Ebola ever presents at your facility or not, the virus is on the minds of every patient and employee, and they aren't soon to forget about it.

Panic is spreading faster than this terrible, deadly disease is ever likely to, and hospitals and healthcare providers across the nation are being asked:  Are you ready?

This question is being asked by employees, the press, local, state and federal elected officials, facility regulators, and the general public. While "being ready" is, of course, the most important issue facing facilities at the moment, how, when, who and what you say in response to this short question can, and likely will if asked in the face of a confirmed case, have lasting, long-term effects on your facility.

The answer to this simple question is a complex one. Infection control was not a top-of-mind issue for most Americans until nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital became infected with Ebola while caring for a patient with the disease. Suddenly, what was a problem in West Africa became a perceived crisis on our shores, traveling faster in our 24/7 media culture than the ill-advised domestic airline flight of one of the nurses on the Presbyterian care team. Assurances from medical experts about containment and the slim chance of Ebola spreading have been drowned out by breathless coverage across the media landscape and the unfortunate politicization of the issue. Infection control protocols and the training of front-line healthcare workers have been questioned, and misinformation is rampant. 

In this environment, hospitals and healthcare providers – their patients, protocols, staff and capabilities – are in the spotlight. Effective communications are imperative. A systematic, carefully thought out and swiftly and perfectly executed communications plan will not only help quell immediate fears, but will also enable you to maintain confidence among those in your community so that people know your hospital is prepared to handle the situation while also treating other patients to keep business as usual. Not only knowing what you are doing, but being in a position to communicate efficiently and effectively that you know what you are doing, will allow you to maintain current confidence in your facility among stakeholders and provide an opportunity to enhance your most valuable commodity - trust.

Prepare for the Worst

The first step is making sure that your hospital has a detailed and up-to-date crisis communications plan ("CCP") that can be activated the very moment a patient with Ebola symptoms walks into your facility. While every situation is different, a CCP gives you a solid starting point. If you don't have a CCP, there's no better moment to invest the time and resources necessary to establish one than right now.

The CCP should be flexible so your team can adapt it based on the situation at hand. It should, at a very minimum, feature elements including:

  • Contact information for an internal response team and process for reaching all needed members quickly.
  • Contact information for regional public health authorities and protocols and triggers for reaching out to them. This information should include designated communications contacts for responding agencies.
  • A process for cascading internal communications to reach all hospital employees quickly. 
  • Media policies for directing onsite media and media calls.
  • A patient communication protocol.
  • A series of potential scenarios. Scenarios including a patient with Ebola-like symptoms presenting at the hospital should be addressed, and these scenarios should be accompanied by draft statements regarding the hospital's procedures, policies and response. 
  • Common hospital and Ebola messages that help ensure that basic information is easily accessible. 

It is vital that all communications be updated as the international disease response evolves. Communications should also be vetted by legal counsel to ensure their compliance with patient privacy, labor and other regulations. 

It also is essential that the plan is practiced and worst-case scenarios considered and acted out by the hospital team.  Additionally, having  multiple professionally  media-trained facility leaders is a must. The best CCP can be rendered totally ineffective by poor delivery. A title doesn't qualify someone to stand in front of television cameras, being good at standing in front of cameras and being able to think on one's feet and stay painfully on message, does.

Provide Information and Assurance to Your Community

As the Ebola story evolves, hospitals and healthcare providers have opportunities to educate and reassure their communities before a case presents.  A few ways to do this include:

  • Outline your hospital's Ebola protocol. Address specific issues that have occurred at hospitals where the disease spread and describe what you have in place to avoid similar mistakes.
  • Highlight the resources you have put in place to prepare for Ebola, or any other potential infectious disease outbreak.
  • Talk to your elected officials and government entities. Be proactive and tell them the actions you have under way that best position your hospital to respond, should a situation occur. 
  • Share the expertise of your clinicians and be a voice of reason. Offer physicians who know about Ebola and similar viruses as sources for area media and organizations.  Develop an FAQ on Ebola and share it with your community.
  • Provide simple ways for concerned citizens to contact you, such as a central e-mail address or phone number for Ebola concerns. 

Look Within

Employees are a critical audience during a public health scare. Communicate to employees regularly to maintain confidence in your Ebola protocols.  Set up an internal hotline for questions and an intranet to provide all staff with specific details on plans, screenings, symptoms and other healthcare resources.  By establishing these internal channels, you can make sure your staff members' questions never go unanswered.

While it is unlikely that Ebola will ever come to your hospital or clinic, the mere existence of the virus in this country requires each and every healthcare provider to think proactively about response efforts. Showing smart, strategic and proactive communications on Ebola can transform fear into enduring trust and confidence within your community. 

For further information visit Waller

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions