How to Create a Covid-19 Specific Communications Plan for Your Care Home

By Marta Kalas co-founder, www.thomsonscreening.com

Care Homes have had a challenging time over the last few months, and with Covid-19 here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future), this has placed an extra burden on care home managers who need to keep abreast of every changing guidelines and regulations.

The easiest way to deal with this is to create a ‘Covid-19 Business Toolkit’ to help you stay on top of the changes and actions you need to take.

One aspect of this toolkit needs to be ‘communication’. Good communication means successful management.
Let’s start with the basics. Any care-home communications plan

needs to include the following characteristics:

  1. Understanding your audience
  2. Listening actively
  3. Being clear about what you want to say (simply)
  4. Using the appropriate channel(s)
  5. Making sure your communication is timely.

    Before we take each of these values in turn and work through how they need to be adapted, let’s add one step, at the very beginning: know your trusted sources of information!

The best sites to visit are the most important government websites. Check these regularly. Currently, there is so much conflicting, confusing or out of date information circulating, so go straight to the horse’s mouth; check the government websites first.

https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-test-and-trace-how-it-works#people-who-develop-symptoms-of-coronavirus

• Office of National Statistics, Coronavirus Roundup https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19roundup/2020 -03-26

• Finding your local Health Protection Team: https://www.gov.uk/health-protection-team

• Moderate and high-risk factors: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-COVID-19/people-at-higher-risk/whos-at-higher-risk-from-coronavirus/

Now, let’s take a look at each step and how it needs to be adapted for Covid-19:

1. UNDERSTANDING THE AUDIENCE

You will need to consider the different types of audience, from staff, to residents, from relatives to visiting professionals. Under the current circumstances people may be more sensitive to different types of com- munication, and this will not necessarily be along the lines you may expect.

Essentially, we are talking about people’s ability to handle uncertainty and manage risk. Some people will be very risk averse, some will rely on science or authority, and some will be just the opposite.

Your communications plan needs to be mindful of this and cater to the different needs of your different audience groups. It may need you to say the same thing from three different perspectives to cater to three different needs. The key to getting this right is understanding your audience and you can do this by listening actively.

2. LISTEN ACTIVELY

You need to listen and hear what your audience or different groups in the audience (whether internal or external to the care home) are most concerned about. For example, is it rules around social distancing? or mask wearing? or visiting?

You also need to demonstrate that you are listening, that the measures you are putting in place are to protect them and meet their needs. The actions you take need to be about them – and they need to under- stand that in your communications. Just acting, but not communicating, can lead to misunderstandings and a break-down in trust.

3. BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY

You don’t want people to come to work if they have symptoms – so be clear about this and what they should do in that situation. Ensure that everyone has the contact details they will need, e.g. of their manager, if they are at home and can’t come to work.

If you need visitors to wear a mask at all times, or only in certain areas – be clear about this. If areas within your care home are off limits, ensure they are obviously labelled.

Above all, your communications need to be clear, simple and, if necessary, repetitive. Don’t assume just because you’ve said it once, every- one has heard it or taken it on-board.

Avoid using abbreviations or acronyms. And remember, this is not a time to be original or funny.

4. USE THE APPROPRIATE CHANNELS

There are dozens of communications channels from your intranet to your website, from Twitter to WhatsApp, from newsletters to window signage. Choose the right platforms for the audience and message. Staff need different channels than residents who may need different channels than relatives.

Make use of as many channels as you can and be consistent with your messages. Normally you’d be using a slightly different approach in each channel, but in your Covid-19 related communications, it is really important that there is no misunderstanding.

Start by creating a list of all possible “channels”, and then use templates where possible as this will save time and keep the communications consistent. Ensure anyone involved communications (from PR to social media, from web editor, to marketing flyers, from poster designs to advertising) know what your Covid-19 messaging is and when and how to include it.

5. MAKE SURE YOUR COMMUNICATION IS TIMELY

Things change fast or stay the same – which makes it very difficult to plan. You don’t want out of date information on any of your communications, and you want to be sure you are always in line with the most recent government or Public Health guidelines. Yet, you cannot spend every hour, every day, checking and updating everything.

Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use:

In electronic communications (websites, newsletters, chats, etc.) use links directly to the relevant government websites. (see list above)

Used shared file systems (e.g. Google Drive, One Drive or Dropbox) for templates and drafts

Have a log of where these templates are used, to make sure you don’t miss one of them

It is an extra few minutes to get everything in one place when you start, but it will pay dividends many times over when you suddenly need to change something.

Once you’ve set everything up, it’s simple to set a weekly reminder in your diary, to check that everything is still correct and relevant; it’ll only take only a few minutes. So, when the Prime Minister announces a change or you get notified by your local public health representative, you will have everything in one place to update. Well done.

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