Lois A. Bowers

Last week, in advance of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living 68th Annual Convention, meeting venue Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino sent a letter to ease the minds of those headed to Las Vegas to attend a meeting at the very place where the largest mass shooting in recent American history had occurred just days earlier.

“The hearts of all of us at MGM Resorts International are broken,” President and COO Chuck Bowling wrote Oct. 10, calling the Oct. 1 shooting an “unspeakable tragedy.” Mandalay Bay is part of MGM Resorts.

Bowling went on to show appreciation for the support expressed guests and others and vowed that employees would continue to meet guests’ needs.

“So many people have been asking what they can do to help Las Vegas right now,” he wrote. “If you see an employee at one of our resorts, ask how they are doing, offer a word of encouragement. If you post to your social channels to let your friends and family know you are in Las Vegas and finding the joy in life, include #VegasStrong. If you would like to make a donation to help the victims, their families or our community’s first responders, you can do so at www.mgmresortsfoundation.org.”

I shared the letter with some friends, and most thought it was a positive move on MGM’s part.

“Brilliant, empathetic PR,” one friend said. “Really well written,” said another.

One friend, however, said: “Sorry, not buying it. Total PR.”

“Yes, it is a public relations effort, but a well-done one considering the hotel had to do something,” I countered.

More than a week earlier, AHCA/NCAL had sent its own email and posted a message on its website, letting meeting registrants know that the conference would go on as scheduled while also conveying sympathy for those killed or injured in the shooting. (And senior living has an unfortunate tie to the incident, as I later reported: Brookdale Senior Living nurse Jennifer Campas was one of those injured, shot in the face. As of Friday, the California resident had been moved out of the intensive care unit into the intermediate care unit at a Las Vegas hospital.)

“We are in contact with the hotels and event sites and will be working with them to implement any additional needs during our event,” AHCA/NCAL’s Oct. 2 message said. “A safe Convention & Expo is our number one priority.”

As did MGM, AHCA/NCAL had to say something.

When I arrived Saturday in advance of NCAL Day, #VegasStrong sentiments were everywhere — hanging on a banner on the Mandalay Bay, visible to all touching down at the airport, and signs inside and outside the airport — and another letter greeted me in my hotel room.

At NCAL Day on Sunday, Board Chair Chris Mason referenced the event, saying: “After any tragedy, we find that we are stronger when we come together. We’re not going to let this horrible event prevent us from living our lives, or especially, keep us from finding ways to better serve our residents.”

Senior living operators can learn a lesson from these efforts. We all hope that no community ever faces a tragedy of the magnitude of the Las Vegas shooting. In fact, ideally, communities wouldn’t face any negative events at all, but that seems unlikely.

Longstanding advice continues to hold true. Before a crisis occurs, have a plan in place for how your community will handle it, and make sure employees know the plan.

Communication — with staff members, residents, family members, law enforcement, government officials and the greater community — is critical. Toward that end, make sure employees know to whom to refer journalists when they call.

Facing a crisis head-on is the best way to protect your reputation and those entrusted to your care. And who knows — you may even improve your reputation in the process. You have to do something.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

#VegasStrong signs are everywhere in Las Vegas, including this banner hanging from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino that is visible from the airport. (Photo by Lois A. Bowers)