Case StudyCrisis communications
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bellingham PR & Communications managed public relations and communications for a Whatcom County skilled nursing center. Our team worked with leaders of the nonprofit healthcare organization to develop and publish a robust array of notifications to a variety of stakeholders — staff members, residents, families and the general public — using digital and traditional media.
Report data collected from March 4 to May 4, 2020
In the beginning
Proactive, long-term relationship enables immediate response during COVID-19 pandemic
- CHCC has had a working relationship with Bellingham PR & Communications (formerly PR Consulting) since 2011. As a result, a variety of communication tools were already enabled, including a robust website, email marketing, social media, printed newsletters and media pitches.
- In 2018 and 2019, BPRC helped CHCC draft a crisis communications plan to ensure team members were prepared for emergencies.
- With backgrounds in corporate and crisis communications, Bellingham PR & Communications‘s team was able to quickly craft messaging that was clear and accurate as the pandemic unfolded.
“At least in all of this craziness going on right now we have the consistency of your great reporting. We truly appreciate your work on our behalf.”
CHCC board of trustees
The COVID-19 pandemic: Communication challenges and solutions
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CHCC needed to quickly disseminate time-sensitive information to a variety of stakeholders, including family members of residents, staff members and community partners.
With official information changing rapidly, it was important to swiftly digest the information and share it in multiple formats.
Bellingham PR & Communications created and managed a number of broadcasting platforms for sharing information with stakeholders:
- Regular alerts posted on the center’s website containing COVID-19 updates, sometimes multiple times per day.
- Email newsletters and updates for community members.
- Facebook posts for family and loved ones that shared lighthearted moments while dispersing accurate updates.
- Printable Q&A flyers for staff members that answered their questions about COVID-19.
- Blog posts and news updates, which were published on CHCC’s website and distributed through owned media channels.
- Media releases and other news outlet placement.
Increase in Page Followers
Total Views of Alert Page
Increase in Total Page Views
Increase in Email Subscribers
Getting the word out
BPRC helps leverage
CHCC’s owned media
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially at the beginning, it was critical to share accurate information quickly. To enable this effort, Bellingham PR & Communications relied on its experience with myriad publication styles and communication methods to send messages that would be received and read by all segments of the CHCC community.
The information that helped shape CHCC’s response to the crisis was coming from a variety of sources, including state and federal agencies, local hospitals and health departments. Bellingham PR & Communications worked alongside the CHCC leadership team to meticulously shape the messages that were published to internal and public audiences.
A custom homepage alert notice was published immediately. The alert page received frequent updates; an archived list of updates was added for reference purposes.
Printable Q&A flyers were developed and published on a weekly basis. These flyers provided a way for staff and CHCC leaders to share important information.
Social media management updates shared positive stories from within CHCC and gave the public an opportunity to engage with staff members and residents.
“There is a big difference between writing a letter for informational purposes and writing a letter that shares info AND makes the reader feel something, too. You are very good at what you do.”
In it together
Make the ask: Requests lead to flood of community support for CHCC
It’s been said a lot throughout the pandemic, but it’s true: We’re in this together. With that in mind, Bellingham PR & Communications reached out to the Whatcom County community through a variety of means — including the Facebook post included below — to ask for community support. The results were overwhelming: dozens of puzzles, DVDs, hand-sewn masks, crates of flowers, special treats and much more.
“Thank you for all you do. You make a big difference in easing my anxiety!”
A Facebook request…
Hello, Facebook friends! 🙋♂️🙋♀️
A number of community members have asked how they can help during this challenging time. We really appreciate that you’re thinking about our staff and the individuals who call CHCC home.
Here are a few things you can do: 1. Continue to send well-wishes here on Facebook and pray for the health and wellness of all people connected to CHCC: staff, residents, families who miss spending time with their loved ones. 2. Mail a card or words of encouragement to residents or our hard-working staff: CHCC, 855 Aaron Drive, Lynden, WA 98264. 3. Drop off new magazines at CHCC’s rehab entrance (located behind CHCC, drive around the back of the building). 4. Help to restock our recreation department with new large piece puzzles, word search books (large print), coloring books, markers, crayons, or colored pencils. Those can be ordered online and shipped directly to CHCC, or you can drop them off at the rehab entry.
Again, thank you so much for your kindness, understanding and encouragement. We can feel your support.🥰
…leads to big rewards.
As a result of this ask and others like it, donations flooded in from the community. People donated hand-sewn masks, puzzles, art supplies, flowers to beautify the CHCC courtyard, treats for staff members and residents and much more.
Getting the word out
BPRC helps secure placement in news media
In addition to making the most of Christian Health Care Center’s owned media (email newsletters, social media accounts, website, staff publications and more), Bellingham PR & Communications also capitalized on relationships with Bellingham and Whatcom County news organizations to ensure that news related to CHCC was being disseminated to the public through those means.
Bellingham PR & Communications facilitated a National Public Radio interview with CHCC’s director of nursing. BPRC vetted the opportunity, set the tone of the message CHCC wanted to get across and coached the person being interviewed.
In a crisis, media opportunities will arise. It can be of great assistance to have a professional PR expert help vet the opportunity and coach team members who might be interviewed to help prepare their thoughts and ensure they are comfortable speaking on the record.
BPRC also was able to help secure placement in most issues of the Lynden Tribune during this two-month period. The Bellingham Herald also positively featured CHCC in an article about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursing homes and assisted living centers in Whatcom County.
When the news media are writing about your organization, it’s critical to be proactive and have a story prepared to tell. Bellingham PR & Communications helped ensure that the media’s coverage of CHCC told the stories the organization wanted.
National Public Radio
HEATHER LEWIS: We’ve also had family members that have come to the outside of the windows. They can’t open the windows, but they can use a cellphone.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: Of the 100 or so people in her care, none have the coronavirus that she knows of. The facility has radically limited physical contact.
The Christian Health Care Center has proactively created a new “designated care unit” within the Lynden skilled-nursing facility on Aaron Drive.
While CHCC had as of Monday been spared any COVID-19 cases, “we know that can change at a moment’s notice due to the aggressive nature of the coronavirus,” the center posted.
The designated area “will be a place where symptomatic residents can be monitored and cared for while minimizing their exposure to others.” A map shows up to 10 rooms on the northeast side of the facility near Central Supply. Details can be found at: https://chcclynden.org/alert/.
The Bellingham Herald
Christian Health Care Center, which provides long-term and rehabilitation care in Lynden, also is placing restrictions on visitors and employees.
“Anyone who is sick or who has been exposed to someone who is sick must stay out of the building until well,” it wrote in a message on its website.
And it sought to reassure people about its practices, including disinfection.
“Our daily practice — the way in which we work every day — is designed to minimize the spread of infection, whether of influenza or COVID-19 or anything else,” the center stated.
“Thanks so much for all that you do to communicate so effectively the information that is relevant to the challenges, opportunities, and successes in the face of what is happening in our world and in our community. Your communication pieces are a source I can always count on.”
CHCC board of trustees
Proactive, effective PR and communications by an experienced, trusted and recommended team.
Bellingham PR & Communications is composed of Patti Goethals Rowlson, founder and communications director, and Matthew Anderson, editor and content strategist. Collectively, they have experience with PR, copywriting, editing, website tech support, graphic design, email mail marketing, social media management, media relations — all the tools necessary to manage communications for corporations.