Health authority’s spin misses mark by miles
Don’t try to spin it unless you know how. Good advice for golfers, and even better advice for public organizations. When it comes to health outfits, the rule ought to be forego the spin altogether.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority, desperate for a “win,” last week overstated success in recruiting doctors to Cape Breton and got called on it by those who know best — doctors in Cape Breton. The authority’s “spin” led to a blown opportunity to show progress and generate some good will. It squandered rare and precious assets — trust and credibility.
At its 2015 inception, near the top of the NSHA to-do list these words should have appeared: “Earn the trust of Nova Scotians and establish the credibility of the new authority.”
Today, the goal needs a rewrite: “Tell the whole, unvarnished truth to repair broken trust with Nova Scotians and build some credibility.”
Responsibility rests with NSHA leadership. That needs to be said because, at the next board or senior management meeting, some self-styled organizational genius is liable to point an accusing finger at the NSHA communications shop and utter the old dodge, “It’s a communications problem.”
It is that and more. It’s a corporate leadership problem.
Sometimes communications practitioners blow it. But at the NSHA other symptoms are present that suggest the shots are being called from above. The order is to shine a righteous light on the authority and its political masters. If the facts need a massage, or an inconvenient reality is ignored, so be it.
What the authority might think of as “spin” has become a self-destruct sequence.
Let’s resist the temptation to call the house cleaners and instead focus on the essence of trust and credibility. For the benefit of the NSHA hierarchy, that would be “the” truth, as opposed to “your” truth.
The difference between the two is simple. NSHA’s truth is a single, narrow perspective. Its own. (see: Trump, Donald J.) Whereas “the truth” considers other valid perspectives and provides an authentic, balanced set of facts, all of which was missing from last week’s announcement about new doctors for Cape Breton.
As the administrators of health delivery — outside the IWK — NSHA leaders needs to get their heads around the truth, the whole truth, which reaches beyond the confines of what they hear in their offices and boardrooms.
You may recall the giant “Mission Accomplished” banner hanging high above the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. The banner, more than the words of then-president George W. Bush, promised an end to U.S. combat in Iran. It was premature and, for many Americans and more Iraqis, dead wrong.
Back to the NSHA. The embroidered physician recruitment claim didn’t come with a “Mission Accomplished” banner, but the message — “we’ve got this covered” — was loud and clear. Cape Breton’s medical community responded with, “No, you don’t. We’re not sure you even understand the problem.”
The announcement was an example of political objectives driving NSHA communications. The authority also has a disquieting habit of secrecy and obfuscation in matters of public interest. Like many public entities it incorrectly, even arrogantly, believes it is bestowed with the power to decide what constitutes the public right to know.
Overreach and evasion in communications are not uncommon. They are endemic to politics, but inexcusable and dangerous from an organization responsible for the delivery of medical care.
When the NSHA raises expectations beyond its capacity to deliver, patients can be imperiled. Folks need to know what medical services are available to them and where. Notice of emergency room closures, which cram the NSHA news release pages, aren’t the whole story.
When it overstates medical capacity, the authority downloads its job to doctors, who are forced to explain to patients that the NSHA announcement in the newspapers was not quite right, i.e.: “That procedure isn’t done here. You need to go to Halifax.”
The NSHA is not a political extension of the government. It should stop acting like one.