Shimon Cohen is the Founder and Chairman of The PR Office. He is a media relations and reputation management specialist who has advised a wide range of clients ranging from Governments and multinational corporations to public and voluntary sector organisations.
“Crisis in UK care homes set to ‘dwarf the steel industry’s problems’”. “Yet another care home in trouble with the CQC”. “Care homes received almost 15,000 neglect complaints last year.”
These are just a few of the headlines that have hit the news in the last year. In fact, reading a negative story about a care home has become all too familiar. The sad reality is that social care has become associated with failing standards, maltreatment and, in some cases, abuse. Who would want to work in the sector? Whilst this negativity continues, staffing shortages are inevitable and the public’s trust in the sector continues to diminish.
So how can we stop this trend? What can we do to alter perceptions of the sector? When people pose these questions to me, my answer often involves asking them where their local care home is. As you can probably guess, they are left slightly perplexed. How many people know where, or anything about their local care home? There are more than 21,000 care homes across the UK, which are home to many thousands of older people, the vast majority of whom have an overwhelmingly positive experience. Increased support for individual homes on a local level across the country would undoubtedly change the nation’s perception of the sector at large.
Care homes, now, proudly sit within our local communities. This is hugely positive. But what good is it having a care home on the high-street if it’s not part of the community? The more we can make a care home part of the fabric of the local area, the less negativity we’ll face. People will feel more affection towards their local care homes; they will want to donate or volunteer; they’ll be proud of it.
This would give the whole care sector a lift. If you, or someone you know volunteers in the local home, you create a new perception. It changes from people thinking it’s a disaster zone, to individuals wanting to engage. We are now in an era where we have more ways to communicate than ever before. While locals papers can still be powerful, good social media, community events and direct marketing can get a care home known for the right reasons. Of course, times are tough and budgets are tight, but that makes effective communication all the more important.
Increased communications also increases the potential for negative stories to spread. It means that it is vital that communications are considered at every stage of the decision making process, whether that’s communication with residents, their families, the media or any other stakeholders.
When things are going well or when they are going badly, public relations can no longer be regarded as an optional extra. The care sector must wake up to the realities that in these challenging times, PR is integral to ensuring people understand you, your organisation and indeed the value of the whole care sector. Care homes provide a vital and fantastic service. We should be proud of how our society takes care of its older people and it’s about time we started shouting about the positives.