Case Hospital: Innocence, Mob Justice and the Real Crisis that is Reactive Communication

Case Hospital in Kampala

By Stephen Kasambeko Mukisa

“There can not be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full”… Henry Kissinger, Former US Secretary of State.

Only a few weeks after they were thrown into the news over the gruesome murder of their accountant and the subsequent arrest of their company driver, another crisis (armed with the unmatched power of Facebook and Twitter) was brewing from inside the white walls of Case Hospital.

One week after the terrible news about Mowzey Radio broke, I am certain everyone reading this has either heard, read or even written about Case Hospital and the (mostly inaccurate) negligence allegations levelled against it in the treatment and eventual death of the Ugandan musical darling.

It is said that Case Hospital received the mega star shortly after the stroke of midnight on the 23rd of January. Mowzey was referred to Case Hospital by Nsambya Hospital having suffered internal head injury following a mysterious brawl in Entebbe.

According to a flurry of social media posts that I have read (with a pinch of salt), the hospital allegedly denied Mowzey any treatment until the family paid an initial deposit for his admission and subsequent treatment.

Users went ahead to make hard-to-believe claims that the hospital actually did not give the musician “the best possible” treatment in their Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and this was the reason Mowzey lost the battle for his life.

Members of the public have angrily pounced on this piece of information and have labeled the hospital as insensitive and money hungry, without any regard for human life. Names ranging from “death trap” to “money sucking den” have been casually thrown around to describe the hospital that took care of the music legend for 7 days until his unfortunate death on February 1st.

This is a classic case of mob justice against an organization in which huge sections of the public have made explosive statements without real solid evidence.

These allegations, true or (hopefully) false, are a public relations nightmare and the resulting reputational crisis that is unfolding on social media against one of the best equipped medical centres is of biblical proportions.

In all fairness, this is not the first time Case Hospital has been at the centre of public anger on social media over the loss of a life. However, Case is also not the only hospital that has battled against similar accusations in the past. Search any Hospital on most Facebook groups and you will be sure to find a negative post or two about it with hundreds of comments below.

Not to lose sight of the real problem, this anger is not all about the death of Mowzey Radio. Even if most people don’t seem to notice it (including the harshest of critics) the real underlying cause of public anger towards Case Hospital is actually about the overall ailing state of our healthcare (and in this case specifically, the treatment of intensive or critical care patients) and the creeping fear within each one of us that asks…What if it was me, or someone I love?

The bigger (ICU) picture

In 2017, The Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council (UMDPC) was tasked to investigate multiple deaths following a neurosurgical camp at Mengo Hospital and to provide a detailed report on what exactly happened. The report was released yesterday.

While Mengo Hospital was exonerated over allegations of negligence, the report implicated the Intensive Care Unit and High Dependency Unit at the hospital for the cause of death of five patients who were recovering after undergoing successful neurosurgery procedures.

While in the ICU, the report stated, patients developed complications ranging from infections and blood clots that would later end up taking their lives.

Following the release of this report, Sarah Opendi the State Minister for Health in Charge of General Duties called upon not only Mengo Hospital but all the other hospitals around the country to urgently equip their ICUs to avoid the reoccurrence of such possibly avoidable deaths.

In a shocking 2012 study titled, National Intensive Care Unit Bed Capacity and ICU Patient Characteristics In A Low Income Country (with Uganda as the case study), it was reported that there were 33 (Yes…only 33) ICU beds in the whole country to serve a population of 33 million people (at that time).

Of course it is safe to say that this number could have since gone up (but so has the population which currently stands at 40 million) but remember 2012 is only 5-6 years ago and it would be silly to assume that the number of ICU beds has dramatically increased to more than double that figure in that time.

My doubt is rooted in the admission by Mulago Hospital’s Executive Director, Dr Byarugaba Baterana at the time of this report’s release that the hospital’s ICU beds then (2012) were procured 16 years ago (1996). Miracles dont just happen in Uganda.

The shamefully low number of ICU beds in the country is the reason Nsambya Hospital referred Mowzey to Case Hospital because their ICU was already full. Case Hospital in this case should be praised (not slammed) for being one of the very few hospitals that have made an investment into providing ICU services.

Let’s be clear, death can happen anywhere.Plus let us also admit that treating a patient with bleeding in the brain and serious damage to the brain like our dear Mowzey had suffered is not anything like treating a common cold or fever. I am made to believe by some that regardless of what hospital Mowzey would have been rushed to, his chances of survival, though not completely zero, were minimal.

Are other hospitals “innocent”?

To shine more light on the state of our health sector, we all have heard of accusations against some hospitals about shunning critically ill patients with the intention of avoiding the same uncomfortable situation Case Hospital finds itself in today. I personally commend the folks at Case for being brave enough to attempt to treat these same patients in the face of possible public scorn and outrage that many times risks their own survival as a viable business entity.

It it therefore foolish to insinuate that Case Hospital accepted to admit Mowzey because of the expected financial benefit of hospitalizing him. The potential loss of clients Case might suffer as a result of this negative public disdain far outweighs the payments that people have claimed were the only motivation to treat the fallen star. And I believe they are smart enough to know that.

I agree, some nurses and maybe even doctors can be negligent, some can be absolutely annoying, but that happens everywhere in this country and honestly in the world.

I have experienced this first hand when my son was sent home by doctors in two different hospitals (in one night) dismissing what was a potentially life threatening blockage in his air waves as a mere cough.

We were informed by doctor in the third hospital we visited the next morning where he was immediately admitted that we could have lost our boy to lack of air and suffocation. None of the two hospitals that misdiagnosed our son was Case Hospital.

My dearest Aunt Alice, who went to be with the Lord last year was misdiagnosed and treated for the wrong type of cancer by doctors at Mulago Hospital as well as a trusted diagnosis laboratory overseas.

Two to three into the brutal chemotherapy treatment, we got the news that it appeared the doctors were fighting the wrong cancer and needed to run tests afresh. She sadly passed on a few months into the new chemo cycle (May Her Beautiful Soul Continue to Rest In God’s Peace).

So, what went wrong?

Could Case Hospital have handled this differently resulting in different (public relations) results? The answer is a simple YES

I adamantly believe that a significant part of of the reputational damage to the hospital has been unfortunately self inflicted, turning a potentially golden opportunity (to win over widespread public support) into a real undeniable crisis.

For starters, it’s my opinion that the Hospital did not anticipate how potentially massive the story could turn out to be (and maybe I don’t blame them).

Had the team at Case Hospital foreseen the potential fallout resulting from the loss of Mowzey’s life or the potential reputational boost had he made a full recovery, they would probably have handled his treatment and all the aspects that came with it differently.

One way Case Hospital would have perfectly managed this PR situation would have been to own it before it ever turned out for the worse. Mowzey Radio’s admission into hospital for head injuries was already a story of massive public interest both online and in the traditional media. The hospital could have regularly (with the family’s consent of course) updated the public on the status of the musician’s health and treatment.

Strange as this might seem in our country, it is actually a very effective strategy for hospitals around the world. Measured statements on the progress, procedures performed and treatment offered to celebrities and public figures are not uncommon.

In fact an attempt at this was made by Case Hospital itself on 23rd January at 9pm when they sent out a Facebook post rebutting the rumors of the death of Mowzey. What they missed was giving subsequent updates on his progress and the kind of treatment he was receiving in the following days.

Doing this would win the hospital alot of public trust, good will, positive media attention. It would pull the public in and whatever direction Mowzey’s story would have taken, Case Hospital would have come out unscathed with a badge of professionalism, compassion and honesty. (“Bambi they even kept updating us about his treatment”)

Secondly, when the sad news broke of Mowzey’s death, Case Hospital appeared like it was thrown into sudden panic mode. In an instant, no one seemed to know how to handle the overwhelming public attention and overflowing emotion. This led to the hospital sending out a (quite articulate) doctor to brief the media on the treatment that the singer was undergoing and the chronology of events that ended in his demise.

In my opinion (and I could be wrong), this was enough. However, Case Hospital (under pressure to ‘clear’ their name following social media heat) went ahead to issue a (hastily prepared) press release / condolence message in the dailies and then posted the same on their Facebook page.

That’s when all hell broke loose….

The already angry public capitalized on some small but significant missteps in the statement to nail the hospital further. For example, it was hard to miss the part of the statement that had a special recognition of H.E the President and Brian White for their contributions towards Radio’s medical bills.

The special recognition was easily interpreted as an indication that one of the hospital’s key priorities (in an extraordinary time of grief for the entire nation) was the financial contribution of the president -remember they were already being accused of not operating on the patient before part of his bills were paid, a charge the hospital denied citing that they acted “according to policy”. In this paragraph, Case Hospital unknowingly gave it’s critics more fuel to add to their fire.

Neither the president nor Brian White had raised any concerns about the hospital. If this statement was targeting the public (which I think it was) it would be perfect not to make it look like it was designed to appease the Head of State, although he generously contributed to Radio’s bills.

Was the statement a wrong move?

The notion that once a crisis strikes a company, it must issue a press release ) statement to clarify their position can be one of the most damaging approaches to crisis management in the age of social media where you can not anticipate the direction the conversation will take.

Case in point..Crane Bank. Once the rumors of it’s impending take over started cropping up online, Crane Bank paid for a full page in the papers to send out a press release to refute these malicious stories.

This action legitimized the online rumors and led to one of the biggest customer deposit withdrawals in Ugandan banking history, finally sinking it. Some in the media have since made the conclusion that this statement made the takeover happen faster than it would have otherwise come.

My recommendation would be to totally stay away from issuing that condolence statement in the first place, or at least they would have kept it strictly focused on the condolence message or a fitting tribute to the fallen star (similar to what many brands did on social media).

Alternatively, it would be prudent for Case Hospital to promise (and then actually carry out) a thorough investigation into what exactly happened from the time Mowzey was admitted to the hospital to the point when he breathed his last. This was the accusation being brother again the hospital.

It will be hell on earth if by any chance new information came to light that there were indeed some members of staff (even one) who could have acted inappropriately or rudely or otherwise at any point after the hospital categorically stated that everything was done “according to policy”.

This promise to get to the bottom of the crisis would buy the hospital some time as tempers and emotions come down giving them room to take control of the crisis without raising more dust.

Allowing social media users to dictate your message and crisis management actions rather than following a well orchestrated crisis communication plan can be one sure way of falling into a trap even when there was no fault to begin with.

I believe that Case Hospital did everything they could to save Mowzey’s life and there is no evidence they put “profit before people”. Their only problem was that they didn’t communicate this well enough to a public that can be very unforgiving and very powerful, thanks to social media. For this they could pay price.

However, not all hope is lost. Judging from the recent “Request for Expression of Interest” for PR and Communications Services posted recently in the media, Case Hospital will hire some communications experts they honestly need to convert thier message in the best way possible. This will put them on the good road to recovery.

Case Hospital will not only repair their image but probably also come back stronger… and that will be a good thing for our health sector. We all win.

The writer is a certified marketer, a brand and corporate communications professional.

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