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Two Hospital PR Case Examples: One Bizarre, One Just Crazy

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

newspaper with red text reading "Cyber Crime"[First of two parts] Two “PR-painful” news stories caught our attention recently. They are the kind of thing that makes the job of hospital public relations and community relations a challenge and headache…but, they illustrate why there are times that hospitals need professional help.

For the hospitals involved— South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta, GA, and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles—the news ranged from bad to bizarre. Likely, the administrators, marketing managers, communications professionals and public relations executives are having a challenging time.

So, for case examples and helpful lessons for all of us, imagine being greeted by these headlines:

Hollywood Hospital 'Victim of Cyber Attack'

After a hospital reportedly pulls ads, Georgia paper says it won’t back down.

Case Examples: How would you handle these PR challenges?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: A radically different sort of community relations and “internal emergency” issue put the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in a troubling news spotlight of “a cyber attack for ransom.”

News coverage by LA’s NBC outlet began this way:

“A Southern California hospital was a victim of a cyber attack, interfering with day-to-day operations, the hospital's president and CEO said. Staff at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center began noticing "significant IT issues and declared an internal emergency" on Friday, said hospital President and CEO Allen Stefanek.” If there was a small upside in any of this, the Channel 4 reports emphasized, “patient care is not being compromised.”

A hospital IT shutdown is bad news, but what makes this event even more bizarre is: “A doctor who did not want to be identified said the system was hacked and was being held for ransom.” A subsequent headline: LA Hospital Paid 17K Ransom to Hackers of Its Computer Network.”

“The chief executive of a Los Angeles hospital said it paid a ransom in bitcoins equivalent to about $17,000 to hackers who infiltrated and disabled its computer network. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center CEO Allen Stefanek said in a statement Wednesday that paying the ransom of 40 bitcoins was ‘the quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions.’ He said the hospital did it in the interest of restoring normal operations.”

Cyber attacks on medical records and systems are increasingly common, and the industry is constantly looking for better security. In addition, every hospital should be looking at their Emergency Plan and consider updates that would contend with the operational and public relations contingencies.

That said, this is the first major story we’ve seen where a cyber ransom was demanded and paid. Are you prepared for that twist? How would you handle this sort of campus-wide crisis? We’d like to hear from you.

And then there’s the hospital-newspaper feud in Georgia that follows in the second part of this series next week titled: Another Hospital PR Case: When Media Relations Go Sour.

If you prefer confidential, one-to-one professional advice about public relations strategies, let’s schedule a PR and marketing consultation. Call me today at 800-656-0907 ext. 801.

Stephen Gregg, MBA

Account Supervisor-Public Relations Strategist

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