Issues and crisis management in aged care during an emergency.

Emergency response scenarios such as fire and flooding happen in health and aged care facilities.

They form part of the great range of issues that aged care providers must deal with in the course of its operations including health outbreaks, sanctions imposed by governments, employee fraud, and assault.

If the issue is serious enough, relevant procedures guide staff in dialing 000 and emergency response teams such as ambulances, paramedics, the police and the fire brigade are called to the scene. The sirens ring and the media responds to the alarm. When there is an injury or fatality, the response is heightened.

Some aged care providers do more than wait until an emergency situation occurs; they accept the risk is ever present and develop implement issues management strategies accordingly.

Effective issues management has three phases: plan, respond, recover.

When preparing to managed heightened stakeholder, resident, client and media scrutiny during a crisis, a company starts with the operational emergency response process. Generally these are standardised across industries and have triggers for actions by key staff and emergency services companies.

The job of the issues and crisis management communications and leadership team is to manage the concerns of families and neighbours and mitigate the negative inquiry of  the media (often intent on pouring petrol on the flames). Importantly, this enables the operations, health and safety staff to do their jobs unhindered, with the ultimate outcome of optimal safety for colleagues and residents or clients.

Issues management plans marry communication responses with operational responses, ensuring every person that needs to be contacted gets the level and type of communication relevant to their relationship to the business. Planning includes decision making tools to assist in making tough decisions under pressure, such as the action the CEO or Board should take and whether media engagement is necessary.

In principle, fire brigades have issues management strategies: they too plan, prepare and respond. Fires/issues are a part of their daily operation and their primary focus. In order to maximise their social impact within the communities that they operate, they manage fires, not simply extinguish them. The Melbourne Fire Brigade‘s operations, for example, extend to developing ‘prevention programs that improve community safety and build resilience’ and driving ‘systematic change to the built environment through reforms to building design, regulations and legislation’. Lessons are learned from fires, policies and procedures are reviewed, and the community benefits from increased fire safety.

In a highly competitive aged care industry, market leaders separate themselves from the pack by investing in and developing stakeholder relationships while the rest simply put out fires. In the aged care industry, a bad reputation won’t break the company, but poorly managed stakeholder relationships will. A study of 16 well-known crises at Fortune 500 companies found that it takes four years to restore corporate reputation. Some aged care facilities never recover from a bad reputation, while prepared providers emerge stronger and more respected.

The priority always remains the safe operation of the facility. When the lives of the residents are placed at risk, then the entire safe operation of the facility is called into question. If, however, the facility is authentic, transparent, and proud of its emergency response, then its stakeholders will continue to support the facility during a difficult time. Stakeholders trust that the facility will respond appropriately if facility management communicated effectively and managed relationships from the outset.

Media responses such as, ‘we don’t know, it is too early to answer’ and ‘it’s complicated’ do not serve the organisation. The former suggests a lack of transparency and the latter suggests incompetence. Aged care facilities can always demonstrate a genuine concern for the well-being and safety of its residents in the face of uncertainty. In this way, the community is assured of the facility’s competency and transparency in its response procedures.

Here again is the fire-fighter approach to issues:


Manage expectations, reassure stakeholders that your facility is ready and prepared if the worst were to happen. Ensure responsible operational and communication team members are identified. Regularly review media and social media policies and remind the workforce of their responsibilities. Build a positive profile in local media for work completed as a good community citizen.


It is important to ensure that your spokespeople have already been identified and are able to respond rapidly and effectively under high pressure. Pre-prepared holding statements assist with messaging. The CEO may wish to offer sincere comment on behalf of the organisation. The media must be reminded of the track record of care and commitment to community wellbeing.


Once any news coverage of the issue or crisis has subsided, it is time to rebuild and reformulate. Fire prevention is incorporated into the rebuild of the facility and the facility communicates the ways in which it has made the facility a safer place. The facility ensures that it behaves in a manner that the community can be proud of, by supporting and compensating any affected parties. Employees are supported and concerns are addressed, ensuring that they remain proud of the organisation.

Accept that emergency response scenarios such as fire and flood happen in aged care. Plan ahead.

Take advice from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade; their minds are always focused on fires. Be proud of the way that your aged care facility manages issues and earn the respect of the community in which you operate.

Read more articles in our issues management blog series.

We can help with issues and crisis management planning and responses. Talk to us.

Image credit: Mark Lane