Magazine article Communication World

Who Cares If You Violate the IABC Code of Ethics?

Magazine article Communication World

Who Cares If You Violate the IABC Code of Ethics?

Article excerpt

What would you do if you had an opportunity to use proprietary information from your former employer? What values, principles and loyalties would stop you -- or encourage you? If you used it without first seeking permission, would you violate the IABC Code of Ethics? Who cares?

These questions and more are addressed in the following case study based on research the author conducted with IABC members and others.

While reading the case, imagine yourself in the role of the new director of public relations for Anderson Towers. Would you have done what she did? Did she make the right decisions?

The case of closing a hospital's homeless health care unit

Anderson Towers, the older of two hospitals in a sprawling middle-class suburb, hired as its director of public relations an energetic communicator who had been director of marketing and public relations at the Beltway Medical Center, the newer and more prosperous of the area's two hospitals. For financial reasons, the executive board of Anderson Towers decided after months of deliberations to close the hospital's Indigent Care Unit, which had been taking care of many of the area's homeless. The nearby Beltway Medical Center did not have a program for the homeless. The County General Hospital, which was not located within this suburban area, had the only health care program for the homeless -- but, it was understaffed and inadequately funded.

Prior to making its decision, the board of Anderson Towers proposed to the board of the Beltway Medical Center that the two institutions share the administrative and operating costs of a coordinated homeless health-care program. The proposal was rejected. The board of Anderson Towers also asked the county government for assistance, but the chairman of the county executive board said the proposal could not be considered at that time.

The senior administrator of Anderson Towers asked the new director of public relations to release information about the board's decision "without generating undue negative publicity." Though his suggestion was to release the news as quietly as possible, the new director of public relations wanted to pursue another approach.

She wanted to hold a press conference and invite all the local media. But, before she discussed this plan with her new boss, she first called her old boss, the senior administrator of the Beltway Medical Center, and informed him of her board's decision and of her tentative plans to hold a press conference. She asked him for permission to release part of the results of the market research she had conducted for the Center. He denied her request, stating her replacement at the Beltway Medical Center might release the information, if appropriate, at a later time. She told her former boss that she understood, and would not discuss the research at the upcoming press conference. He said that with the approval of key board members of the Beltway Medical Center board, he would put the Anderson Towers proposal for a homeless health-care consortium back on the board's agenda for their next meeting.

She then met with her new boss and presented her plan. She told him that she had helped design and knew the results of extensive market research conducted by Beltway Medical Center about the public's perception and media coverage of the quality of health care provided by area hospitals. She suggested that the best way to release the information was to hold a press conference with hospital doctors and administrators explaining the board's decision. She explained to her new boss that such a highly visible approach to releasing the information would not only disclose the information about eliminating the homeless health-care unit but also reposition the hospital on the homeless issue if those speaking for the hospital emphasized one common message: that all hospitals in the area -- not one alone -- should share the responsibility for caring for the homeless; that a consortium should be formed among the area hospitals to deal with the homeless; and Anderson Towers was prepared to work with local hospitals and appropriate funding agencies to create such an area-wide health care program for the homeless. …

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