Communicating Lasting Impressions

Real-life Lessons in Crisis Management

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roses to represent crisis managementLast year was tough for my parents. Dad was admitted into hospice at home in January. Mom fell in March and sustained a concussion. More falls later in the year resulted in at least one more concussion. Making matters worse, the healthcare needs of my immediate family prevented me from making the full-day drive from Houston, Texas to visit my parents and lend a hand.

As I planned a post-Christmas arrival at my parents’ home, I knew it would not be a glee-filled Hollywood moment. What I found, was worse than I had sensed by phone. Mom could barely walk. She was also experiencing a lot of confusion. It was time to call on my crisis communications training.

Assess – Plan

Immediately, I began assessing the situation. Mom’s confusion was negatively affecting dad’s care, making their living situation unsafe. Was her confusion a result of the stress of caring for him for so many years? Was it due to multiple concussions? Or, was it caused by something else entirely? I would not know until she was relieved of dad’s care. My crisis plan was taking shape: We needed to move dad to assisted living and take mom back to Houston for medical care.

Enlist Support

Since mom had already considered assisted living for dad, it was easy to get her to move forward with this decision. We enlisted support – another critical element when handling a crisis – from the hospice social worker. She shared the impending move with dad. This compassionate social worker, who had worked with mom years earlier, had already expressed concern that dad’s improved health would make him ineligible to remain in hospice after December.

I’d like to say dad positively received the news about moving. He did not. After the social worker left, I discovered the key message that resonated with him because of his deep love for mom: We need you to move into assisted living so we can get medical care for mom in Houston.

During the next week, a team of helpers joined me in planning dad’s move to assisted living and mom’s trip to Houston. Along with dad’s hospice social worker, team members included the assisted living administrators, movers and medical providers, plus family and friends who provided much-needed support and encouragement.

Reassess – Make Changes – Communicate

After dad’s move, which went very smoothly, I turned my focus to mom. When she experienced a scary medical event, I knew I had to speed up our return to Houston. My parents’ 60th anniversary dinner, as scheduled, was no longer possible. One of the things we learn in crisis communications is the need to continually reassess the situation and change our plan, if warranted.

It was time to change the plan and to communicate that change with my parents. First, I confirmed I could move up mom’s doctor visit in Houston. Now, I needed to talk to my parents about an earlier celebration.

Dad was amenable to the change, but Mom was not as accepting. Luckily, one of mom’s trusted advisers stepped in and said the actual celebration was more important than the date. She also pointed out that, if we waited, ice and snow could prevent us from traveling to Houston. Yikes. This Gulf Coast girl had never even considered the weather. I thanked God for this blessed angel. The celebration date was changed.

While I have successfully moved my parents’ healthcare crisis from the boiling point to a medium simmer, the hot pot is still on the stove. I continue to reassess the situation, reorder my priorities and look to long-term solutions as mom completes medical tests and awaits a diagnosis. As part of the plan, I have been proactively preparing mom for possible changes in her living arrangements, should her doctors make this recommendation.

My crisis communications training certainly prepared me for my parents’ healthcare emergency, however, what this experience has reinforced is the importance of ongoing assessment and enlisting the support of others. Here’s to great friends and family!