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Media efforts during 2014 Ebola outbreak lauded

Mar. 10, 2016, 8:37 AM

News crews film a 2014 press conference on the Ebola virus outbreak that featured VUMC experts and was arranged by the Medical Center’s Office of News and Communications. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Office of News and Communications has received national recognition for its efforts to educate and inform the general public during the 2014 Ebola virus disease outbreak that sparked fear across the nation and around the world.

The office was presented an Award of Excellence for Best Practices in Communications and Marketing at the CASE District III annual conference last month at Gaylord Opryland.

CASE (the Council for Advancement and Support of Education) is an international association serving educational institutions and the professionals who work on their behalf in communications, alumni relations, development, marketing and allied areas.

In the summer and fall of 2014, fear was mounting that the deadly Ebola virus, which had killed thousands in West Africa, would have a major impact on the United States.
Also on the rise was misinformation about the disease.

VUMC’s News and Communications team watched as peer institutions designated as primary treatment hospitals by the federal government, such as Emory University in Atlanta, and a public hospital in Texas, dealt with harsh public reaction to their willingness to care for Ebola patients.

With general uncertainty about when and where the next patient could be diagnosed, the staff set out to educate the public about what Ebola is, how it is transmitted and who is at risk.

“When another parent at my child’s day care said they weren’t going to a birthday party because they were worried about Ebola, it became very clear we needed to do something to help get credible information out to the general public,” said Craig Boerner, national news director for VUMC News and Communications.

The office worked to match local, national and international media outlets covering Ebola with VUMC experts such as William Schaffner, M.D., professor of Preventive Medicine, and James Crowe Jr., M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center.

Staff also worked to educate and inform the Vanderbilt community through internal messaging and updates in the weekly VUMC Reporter and twice-weekly MyVUMC.

The end result was widespread media coverage resulting in tens of thousands of placements worldwide —mentions of VUMC and its personnel — on television, radio, online and in print publications.

VUMC experts made appearances on international and national outlets including BBC World News, CNN International, CNN, NBC Nightly News, CBS This Morning, NBC’s Today Show, CBS Face the Nation, ABC News Good Morning America, FOX Business Network, Canadian Television, Al Jazeera America and NPR.

VUMC’s Ebola experts reached more than 90 million people using the on-campus VUStar Studio to conduct television and radio interviews with national and international media outlets.

“The opportunity to assist our faculty as they go about the important work of educating and reassuring the public through the news media is something we take very seriously,” said John Howser, assistant vice chancellor for Medical Center News and Communications.

“Our ability to reach audiences numbering in the hundreds of millions each year with highly credible medical and scientific information creates significant impact for these messages.”

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