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News Media Policy

1.0 Purpose

The NHS recognizes that healthcare is a subject of utmost importance to the public and is committed to openness, accountability and transparency while recognizing the need to balance these principles against the protection of patients’ privacy rights and expectations of confidentiality.

The News Media Policy outlines the responsibilities of both the Niagara Health System (NHS) and the news media to facilitate as best as possible responsive and balanced news coverage of NHS issues, events and interests through an ongoing positive working relationship between the parties.

2.0 Scope

Applies to all staff, physicians and volunteers of the Niagara Health System.

3.0 Definitions

Not applicable.

4.0 Policy

Positive and balanced news media coverage is an important factor contributing towards the public reputation of the hospital.

NHS places the highest priority on the protection of patients’ privacy rights and expectations of confidentiality regarding the public release of personal information, in accordance with the Personal Health Information Protection Act (2004).

NHS has the right to establish measures to ensure fair, balanced and unbiased representation of its employees, medical staff, programs and services in the news media.

As delegated through the Chair of the Board of Trustees and CEO, NHS Corporate Communications Department is responsible to co-ordinate media relations activities for the NHS and to act as the official news source and principal contact for all communication between NHS and media representatives. Corporate Communications ensures media inquiries are managed effectively with timely and accurate responses.

Only individuals specifically authorized through Corporate Communications to do so will publicly speak to the news media on behalf of the NHS.

Medical staff can provide comments and interviews on behalf of themselves but are not authorized to speak on behalf of the NHS without authority delegated.

4.1 Hospital Spokespersons

4.1.1. NHS designates official spokespersons for the organization. Only authorized spokespersons may speak publicly on behalf of NHS and/or its programs and services in an official capacity. The Board Chair, President and CEO, Chief Communications Officer and Consultant, Public Affairs are authorized to designate “official” spokespersons.

4.1.2. Typically, the Board Chair will speak to matters relating to the President and CEO and Chief of Staff and his/her performance, compensation, recruitment, etc. All other organizational matters are to be addressed in the media by the President and CEO or as designated by the President and CEO, Chief Communications Officer or Consultant, Public Affairs.

4.1.3. On matters relating to organizational performance and reputation and administrative policy matters, the most senior official with responsibility for the subject matter that is available will act in the position of spokesperson.

4.1.4. On clinical matters, it is most appropriate that a senior clinical leader within NHS act as spokesperson.

4.1.5. A Corporate Communications spokesperson may occasionally act as spokesperson for purposes of providing background or routine information, or when it is otherwise deemed appropriate.

4.2 Guidelines for the media

4.2.1. The NHS Corporate Communications Department is the principal point of contact between NHS and news media representatives.

4.2.2. Members of the news media are required to place all requests for information and/or interviews, photography/video shots through the Corporate Communications Department. Accommodation of these requests will be the decision of Corporate Communications in consultation with the appropriate administrative leaders, physicians, staff or caregivers, and when appropriate, patients and their families.

4.2.3. Media representatives are required to clearly identify themselves to NHS employees and medical staff when they are acting in an official, professional capacity as a member of the news media, whether in person or otherwise.

4.2.4. To ensure patient confidentiality, privacy, and appropriate sensitivity to all NHS patients and their families, reporters, film crews and photographers acting in a professional capacity must contact the Corporate Communications Department before coming on to NHS property.

4.2.5. Media representatives must be accompanied by a Corporate Communications staff person or their designate while on any and all NHS property.

4.2.6. The media must first notify the Corporate Communications Department before interviewing, photographing, filming, or making an audio recording or videotape of an NHS patient. Signed patient consent, obtained by the Corporate Communications Department, is required by the NHS.

4.2.7. NHS physicians and staff must first be asked for their permission, obtained by the Corporate Communications Department, before the media can use them for an audio or video recording, filming, photographs, or an interview.

4.2.8. The media is not permitted to enter patient care areas and other restricted areas without first obtaining authorization from the Corporate Communications Department.

4.2.9. Corporate Communications will endeavour to provide open and equal access to all members of the news media within the limits of this policy. NHS can in no way guarantee exclusivity of any story for a media representative.

4.3 Guidelines for patients

4.3.1. It is the policy of NHS to provide a one-word description of a patient’s condition in response to media requests in matters of public record (i.e. involvement of police or fire department in an accident) unless the patient has specified in writing that no information be released. A standard generic description (Critical, Serious, Good, Fair, Treated and Released) will be used. NHS will release no other patient information under any circumstances.

4.3.2. No information will be released on mental health patients.

4.3.3. High-profile patients (public figures or those well known to the media) may be advised to have information about their condition released by their own sources, which may have the liberty to release detailed information the hospital is unable to provide. In such cases, Corporate Communications will refer all media to that source.

4.3.4. Patients who are approached by Corporate Communications to be interviewed, recorded, photographed or videotaped by the news media, or who wish to discuss their personal circumstance, case or condition with the news media while a patient of the NHS are required to sign a Patient/Employee Consent for Photo/Interview Form (found on Sourcenet) prior to the media contact.
Measures will be taken by Corporate Communications and NHS staff to maintain the confidentiality of all other patients of the facility who are not involved in the media contact, and who have not previously initiated a media contact.

4.4 Directing media inquiries

4.4.1. The NHS Corporate Communications Department is staffed weekdays, Monday to Friday.

4.4.2. After hours and during weekends and holidays, the Senior Executive Team member on call will respond to media requests concerning patient conditions and emergency/crisis situations involving NHS or any of its sites on a priority basis, and will determine whether to contact Corporate Communications for assistance.

4.4.3. Media requests during evenings, weekends and holidays involving matters deemed to be of an administrative or routine operational nature will be deferred until regular weekday hours when appropriate resources are accessible.

4.5 General guidelines for staff, physicians and volunteers

4.5.1. All staff should promptly refer all media requests to the Corporate Communications Department without comment. The Corporate Communications Department will clarify the request and identify the appropriate spokesperson, when required, and generally provide assistance in accordance with NHS media procedure and ensure compliance with this policy.

4.5.2. Any employee or member of the medical staff who is not a designated spokesperson shall not present himself/herself as a designated spokesperson for NHS.
When speaking with any member of the news media regarding any public issue or announcement, or when participating in a media interview concerning topics or matters relating to or affecting NHS, such employee or member of medical staff without official designation is required to inform members of the media that his or her comments are personal opinions or observations and do not reflect official positions held by NHS or its departments.

4.5.3. All news items/releases are approved and released through Corporate Communications.

4.6 Guidelines for release of information regarding patient condition inquiries

4.6.1. Staff and/or physicians provide generic patient condition (Critical, Serious, Good, Fair, Treated and released) reports of patients in police and accident cases of public record only upon request by Corporate Communications. It is important to note that this information will only be given if the media member has a specific name. Patients may request no release of information.

4.6.2. Staff and/or physicians are to notify Corporate Communications when a patient:

  • Requests release of condition other than Critical, Serious, Good, Fair, Treated and Released.
  • Requests that no condition reports be released to the news media.
  • Is to be interviewed, recorded, photographed or videotaped by the news media. Obtain patient consent by having the patient sign a Patient/Employee Consent for Photo/Interview Form (Appendix, also available from the forms section on NHS Sourcenet). Interoffice mail or fax this form to Corporate Communications at 905-323-3800 and attach a copy to the patient’s chart.
  • During evenings, weekends and holidays, advise the Senior Executive Team member on call of the patient’s wishes by contacting him/her through the Regional Switchboard.

Definitions of Patient Conditions:

Critical condition: the patient’s prognosis is questionable; vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits, and there are major complications.

Serious condition: the patient is acutely ill; his/her vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits, and there is a chance for improved diagnosis.

Good condition: the patient’s vital signs are stable and within normal limits; the patient is conscious and his/her prognosis is good or excellent.

Fair condition: the patient’s vital signs give no cause of concern; the patient is conscious and the prognosis is favourable, but he/she may be uncomfortable or have minor complications.

Treated and released: the patient has been treated and discharged from the hospital.

4.7. Breaches

Breaches of this policy deemed to be of a serious nature will be referred to the Chief Communications Officer for action.

Caroline Bourque Wiley
Manager, Communications | Niagara Health System
905-378-4647, ext. 43113
cwiley@niagarahealth.on.ca