04 January 2008

When you're in a hole...

the best way to get out is to stop digging.


However, the province's Eastern Health authority seems intent on pushing through to see if they can reach China instead.

The issue - in this instance -  is an effort by the authority's lawyers to block access to two report on its lab facilities that are at the centre of both a lawsuit and public inquiry. The story broke before Christmas and, apparently, was poorly handled. 

The authority's position is given virtually no prominence and the reason they offered is a bit of a nose-puller.

The hole that was pretty wide and pretty deep got bigger.

Now that the holidays are over, someone at Eastern Health decided it's time to get back to the pick and shovel work by having the acting chief executive of the authority call a local open line show and repeat the same basic information, yet again.  As vocm.com reports,

Acting CEO Louise Jones told VOCM Open Line with Randy Simms the reports have already been provided to the Commission of Inquiry, but they have concerns that the results of a peer review would be made public. [Emphasis added]

Tactically this might seem like some sort of good idea.  heck, the lawyers might even feel this is necessary for some reason.

But in the big picture - the strategic picture - what it appears to be is what it will be taken as:  an effort to withhold information.  The key word in public inquiry is "public".  Even allowing the commissioners to see a report or two is pointless if they are not permitted to quote the report or, as the original CBC story indicated, even speak with anyone involved in the report about the report and its conclusions.  this is definitely not a smooth move in an inquiry that was created largely out of concerns about a lack of disclosure or inadequate disclosure of information to patients and the public.

And all of that  - obviously - further damages  both the legal case and the public relations case for the authority. The whole thing only gets worse when the comments are made on local talk radio where, among other things, the story gets parsed down to something essentially meaningless as in this case.  All the story says is that the authority has unspecified concerns so it wants to restrict who can see reports.

Better to have killed off the legal tactics early on in the management decision-making cycle. Failing that, the authority should have taken on a pre-emptive strategy by discussing the reasons for the legal action thoroughly and in detail with the media in the first place.

As it is, the commissioners have been handed a live-action example of how Eastern health's decision-making process works. They can dissect and should dissect it in detail.  They would see what public relations and media relations advice senior management has been getting and how they have been working through a major problem.  They can look at the internal relationships of the management team and, if they really want to look close take a gander at the staff structures and human resource issues. 

All of these play a role in how things get handled. The comms section could have a raft of highly qualified people giving expert advice.  It's useless if they get ignored by management.  They could have a bunch of good people with solid experience but who lack certain crisis management expertise.  The staff might be simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem they face coupled with .  Again, the road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions. Then again, they might have a bunch of people lacking the skills to manage the high profile cases like this one.  Nice website and brochures but not up to the heavy slogging. 

That's the range of possibilities and there are likely other combos.

But no matter what the reasons, the public inquiry into the breast cancer screening crisis has in front of it a text-book example of how not to handle a high profile, controversial case. 

It's provided by the very authority the inquiry is examining.

And for the authority?  Well, surely someone has figured out by now that the best way out of a hole is to stop digging and climb out, possibly using the shovel you came with.

China's a long way down and in between here and there, things get mighty hot. 

Melt careers and people kinda hot.

Get the picture?

[cross-posted from The Persuasion Business]