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Communication Is One of the Most Important Activities

All sources say this was the most important activity. All other actions won’t work without it. Find out what to communicatewho to communicate with, and how to keep the communication channels open.

You may need to ask residents, staff, and family about travel. Travel advisories are changing, but generally, you’ll want to ask about any travel in the past 30 days as well as any planned travel by residents. The CDC has travel advisory guidelines that list the changing levels of restrictions.

Review and refresh your communication plans for critical, official, and operational communications:

  • Health department: This is the communication most critical to health. Viruses appear in clusters, so they’re best fought on the local level. Follow protocols given for state and local jurisdictions.As most communities know, certain illnesses MUST be reported to the correct health department. If coronavirus presents itself, communicate early. The health department makes the rules–they’ll tell you what number or percentage of cases constitute a need for limited contact or quarantine.Work from above AND below. Following the CDC website will help you keep up with the general trends and what’s happening. Communicating with your health department and watching local news will help you with specifics.
  • Other regulatory agencies: Review what your state or city requires in terms of putting up signs, providing notice to vendors and visitors, and limiting new resident admissions in the event of an outbreak in your community.
  • Medical and emergency services: Review plans and procedures. Health care workers at this time are largely still practicing basic infection control at the flu level, too. If a physician recommends someone in your community go to a hospital or treatment center, call to let the hospital know, so they can get their infection prevention plan into action.
  • Suppliers, vendors, and maintenance: Make an effort to keep maintenance service people who periodically visit the community updated on any limitations in entering the community. Ask the supervisors or check websites to see if vendors and maintenance from outside the community have awareness and prevention programs in place. If this is not already part of your emergency plan, sketch out a scenario of what you’d do if they couldn’t enter your community–and act as needed to prevent that outcome.
  • StaffDuring any sort of emergency or crisis, it is important to maintain open and transparent communication with staff. Be sure they are engaged in conversations and that they are heard. Staff can often provide insight that leaders may not have access to because staff is directly caring for and interacting with residents. Be sure there is a pathway for staff to share concerns and that they understand the value of their contribution—both in providing direct care and by sharing feedback. It is also important for staff to know their value and to feel comfortable if they cannot report to work as a result of being sick. Be sure to create a culture of support and understanding for staff as well as for residents, family members, and the broader community.  Click here for ideas to generate conversations with staff.

Communicate with residents and families: Put up flyers with reminders, post on social media, keep families up to date so they know you have a plan. Review policies on concerned family communications.

Be prepared for residents, families, and staff alike to see sensationalized news reports. The more you communicate, even just to say hello, the more you’ll help avoid escalating their stress. Remind residents to communicate with family and each other–that can help reduce stress as well.

Residents, families, and staff may come to you with concerns based on misinformation. Residents may be vulnerable to scam “cures” and supplements. Create an easy way for them to find accurate information by linking to this website on community communications, closed-circuit channels, and display signage: The CDC site is well-labeled and easy to navigate.

The World Health Organization has a “Mythbusters” page that addresses all kinds of odd rumors and theories.

Check your communications tools:

  • How’s your website functionality? You may want to include a message to site visitors with a link to updated information.
  • Getting cross-training on communication tools such as how to post a notice on the community TV channel or change display signs is a good thing to cover before it’s critical.
  • Are your tools, computers, phones, and systems in good working order? Is it easy to charge phones, tablets, and laptops?

Conversation, concern, and searching for information are all part of a normal, automatic, and temporary psychological function. A certain amount of talking things over or vigilance even has the effect of lowering stress, psychologists say, and denial or silence makes it worse. Listening and validating concerns before offering advice or tips on precautions can help people through this process. You can find out more about this phenomenon here and here.

Review media, privacy, and social media policies.

Know what to do if a member of the media contacts you. It’s a good idea to ensure everyone who might be answering a community office phone knows what to do and what not to do.

Remind everyone of your policies to ensure the privacy and dignity of residents. Review social media policies. Rumors can spread like wildfire, and incorrect information can do a lot of damage.

Sharing the name and personal information of anyone who may have this virus or illness of any kind requires great care to be done in compliance with HIPAA regulations, which allow disclosure only to health officials and disclosure to family members only under certain circumstances.

Leaders at all levels can model good communication. The more transparent and open about communication you can be, the less likely people will be to speculate among themselves.


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