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Teamwork, Agility Key to Nebraska Medicine’s Ebola Response

Teamwork, Agility Key to Nebraska Medicine’s Ebola Response

RebrandWhen the media spotlight is on you in the face of a potential public health crisis, you rise to the occasion.

“When dealing with an unfamiliar illness like Ebola, public fear is something you must stabilize,” said Jenny Nowatzke, senior media relations coordinator at Nebraska Medicine. “The more information we push out, the more we can help educate others. In this case, being transparent is being productive.”

Pulling together as a team, thinking about how their audience accesses information, and remaining agile over the past eight weeks has been critical to the success of Nebraska Medicine’s Ebola communications strategy.

From a public relations perspective, Nebraska Medicine did everything right, and has managed to avoid the media scrutiny that has plagued other institutions that are dealing with the disease. Here’s how:

24/7 News Media Response

According to Nowatzke, identifying one point of contact for the news media was the first and best decision the team made. Nowatzke’s colleague, Taylor Wilson, was designated as the point person for the media, as well as for hospital staff who had questions about the media. Centralizing the media relations inquiries and giving ownership to Wilson provided stability as the news on Ebola and patients’ conditions changed day-to-day.

To further ensure the media was reporting the most factual information about Ebola, Nebraska Medicine provided them with fact sheets on Ebola and patient care specific to the hospital’s Biocontainment Unit, which is the largest in the U.S. They also provided Dropbox links to extra video and photos of the Biocontainment Unit that could be used easily by the media to supplement their stories.

Prominent Social Media

Live tweeting @ press conference

Another key to effective communication with the media and general public was determining the best ways to provide minute-by-minute updates. Twitter was the most effective platform for real-time updates, and Nebraska Medicine created the hashtag #NebraskaMedEbola, which was introduced during the hospital’s very first press conference. This allowed the communications team to organize its Twitter content digitally, follow the public and media response, and tweak the messaging, if needed.

Twitter certainly wasn’t the only social media channel utilized by Nebraska Medicine, though. Facebook, Instagram, blogging and live streaming of press conferences that allowed media from throughout the country to email their questions (which were then answered in real-time), were all integral parts of the strategy, in addition to social media response to the public and media by Nebraska Medicine.


As the Nebraska Medicine story was being told so masterfully through offline and online media, a hospital in Texas was under media scrutiny for breaches in protocol that led to the Ebola diagnosis of two of its staff members. It was at this time when other hospitals reached out to Nebraska Medicine to better understand their best practices for properly putting on and taking off (donning and doffing) Biocontainment gear. Nebraska Medicine responded by posting donning and doffing instructions to their dedicated Ebola website that served as a resource for other healthcare professionals.

Additional videos were developed featuring Q&A with doctors and nurses to address the most common questions they were receiving. The videos allowed the medical staff to provide their answers across a broader channel to a bigger audience, which was time-efficient for both the busy hospital staff and the media; it meant less time on the phone conducting interviews and more time tending to patient needs.

If you think their video strategy stopped there, think again: the team also launched online courses through the iTunes U app. The courses provide video and printable documents for the media, health care professionals and the general public.

Clear Internal Communications

Throughout the public-facing media blitz; internal communication was just as important, especially in light of the uncertainties involved with Ebola. The internal marketing team at Nebraska Medicine has been dedicated to keeping all patients, physicians, nurses and staff up-to-date through emails, phone calls and letters on a regular basis.

From a PR perspective, even the most well thought-out crisis plans can’t always prepare you for something like what Nebraska Medicine has been through. That’s when being agile, considering your audiences, understanding your media channels and preparing sound messaging become your allies. By doing this, Nebraska Medicine pulled together a plan that kept them in control of the story.