In case of emergency

After single-handedly managing the media frenzy that resulted after Theresa Andrews’ baby was released from Robinson Memorial hospital in October 2000, Heather Phillips knew she needed to find a way for hospitals to call for help to manage PR emergencies.

In October 2000, Phillips, Robinson’s PR director, worked four straight days and nights handling the international attention focused on the hospital after Oscar Andrews was released. (The baby’s mother was murdered by a neighbor, who then cut the baby from her body and claimed it as her own.)

Soon after the incident, Phillips turned to the Akron Regional Hospital Association to ask if there was a way member hospitals could call on each other to help with future PR crises.

The ARHA is unique collaboration of hospitals in Summit, Medina and Portage counties — all 13 of them. The group was created in 1936 to help hospital administrators deal with a nursing shortage.

Since then, it has worked collaboratively on internal issues such as the work force shortage and on community issues such as bioterrorism preparedness, pharmaceutical education and public access to health care. The administrators avoid competitive issues and focus primarily on community issues.

“Every single CEO gets in the room every other month and meets and discusses what’s best for the community,” says Marianne Lorini, president of the association. “That is very unusual.”

The PR arrangement, approved by the association’s board last November, should benefit not just hospital staffs, but the media, families and patients, Lorini says.

Now, if a hospital is faced with a PR crisis, its staff can call for immediate, experienced help from other hospitals’ PR personnel, who know how to handle the media, take phone calls from families or write press releases.

“They sign a confidentiality agreement, so that for that period of time, they are literally that other hospital’s employee, and they cannot reveal anything that goes on while there in that role,” Lorini says. “They are at the direction of that head of PR.”

Lorini says there are other local and statewide hospital associations, but none, to her knowledge, collaborate to the extent that the Akron association does.

“We even tried to share our PR plan with some of the other cities around the state, and they said, ‘This would never work.’ But here, it does,” she says.

She attributes that to the sense of community that has existed in the Akron area since the rubber industry dominated the town.

“There really is something unique and valuable down here that doesn’t seem to be in other places,” she says. How to reach: Akron Regional Hospital Association, (330) 668-6180