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How health care communicators are handling Flint’s PR crisis

Flint, Michigan probably won’t experience a slow news day for some time.

The many media layers behind the mishandling of lead-contaminated public drinking water continue to evolve.

Here are four recent developments. Take a look at how health care and PR pros are working their respective angles.

1. Hacktivists. A spokesperson at Hurley Medical Center, where the story broke, confirmed Thursday that the publicly owned hospital had been the victim of a cyberattack. Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha is the whistleblower from Hurley who began looking into dangerous lead levels in Flint’s children some 18 months ago.

Spokeswoman Ilene Cantor released few details but said:

Hurley Medical Center has IT systems in place, which aid in detecting a virus or cyberattack. As such, all policies and protocols were followed in relation to the most-recent cyberattack on our system. Patient care was not compromised and we are closely monitoring all systems to ensure IT security is consistently maintained.

According to, the attack occurred one day after hacktivist group Anonymous released a four-minute video threatening action against those responsible for the crisis. The video calls for Snyder to be arrested on criminal charges. “We must remind the city officials of Flint we do not forget and we do not forgive,” the narrator said.

Dave Murray, Snyder’s press secretary said: “We are focused on helping the residents of Flint get the assistance they need.”

2. Visuals and children. TIME has featured the faces of Flint on its cover this week. News and PR professionals typically like to spotlight children in photos and videos, and TIME’s cover shot reveals the emotional impact of the faces of Flint’s most vulnerable population. The boy shown on TIME’s cover is a toddler whose face is covered in rashes. The child’s mother said the rashes are the result of contaminated bath water. She calls it his Kryptonite.


3. Community outreach. Health care communicators and schools are taking a lighter yet still serious approach to the lead contamination crisis. Several “Family Fun Nights” have been held in Flint, and more are scheduled. The community-type events feature face-painting, balloons and games, as well as blood tests to detect lead levels. Flint Community Schools District Nurse Eileen Tomasi said: “We don’t know what’s going to happen with this [testing] yet. Our goal as a district is to get parents information so that they can make the best decision for their children.”


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4. Leadership crisis. The fallout continued this week with word Thursday that Susan Hedman, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator overseeing Michigan, had resigned.

A statement from Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest director Henry Henderson read in part:

The EPA’s previous response to Flint was, frankly, part of the problem. This new, more urgent approach shows different thinking from the top, reflects an awareness that the situation in Flint is just unacceptable, and it points the Agency in the right direction. However, we remain very concerned that the people of Flint cannot simply rely on agencies that have to date utterly failed them.