After a 2012 mass shooting occurred inside a movie theater in Aurora, CO, University of Colorado Hospital experienced an “overwhelming” amount of media interest from news outlets across the nation and around the world, recalls spokesperson Dan Weaver.
“More than 6,000 news stories specifically mentioned University of Colorado Hospital in just the first five days after the shooting,” says Weaver. Additionally, President Obama came to meet with hospital staff, patients, and family members. “This brought the White House press corps and additional media interest,” says Weaver. “Though we brought in extra media relations help, our team was overwhelmed.”
Media staff were flooded with emails and voicemails. “It was impossible to read and listen to all the messages, let alone respond to all of them,” says Weaver.
A specific media staging area was designated outside the hospital. When possible, experts used this area to talk with news outlets.
“Media was allowed inside the hospital, but only when escorted by a member of media relations,” says Weaver. One journalist was found walking around the inpatient units trying to interview victims and was escorted out of the hospital by security. “Additional security at every entrance helped ensure no media outlets were entering our hospital without an escort,” says Weaver.
The media interviewed many patients and family members. “Our media relations staff worked to ensure their wishes were being followed,” says Weaver. “All signed HIPAA releases before any interviews or information releases occurred.”
One unanticipated outcome was that many people came to the hospital with gifts and cards for victims. “Many of these well-wishers asked to visit the injured patients,” says Weaver. University of Colorado Hospital’s volunteer services department collected the gifts and thanked people for visiting, but did not allow members of the public to visit any patients.
“Security screened all gifts, and patients or their families were asked before any gifts were delivered to them,” says Weaver.