Cornwall-based Bowden Derra Park Care Home is a family-run residential facility supporting 46 vulnerable adults with profound learning disabilities, such as sensory impairment or dementia. In March 2016, the care home was rated good by the Care Quality Commission. In January 2017, Cornwall Council received a complaint about the care received by residents of Bowden Derra.
The council launched an investigation the following month, which it announced to the local media, and suspended future placements while confirming that it did not believe any resident was at risk. The announcement sparked fears among the residents, their families and the staff at Bowden Derra that the council would close the facility, which had been operational for more than 40 years.
There were also concerns in the local community that a care scandal was looming. Agency PLMR was brought in to reassure staff, residents and families, turning them into advocates, and defend Bowden Derra’s reputation in the local media. In order to save the home from closure, it had to challenge the council, who were not responding to requests for information from Bowden Derra’s owners, to publicly justify its position. It briefed employees on how to defend the home if challenged by acquaintances, gathered emotive testimonies from the families of residents on the positive impact of Bowden Derra and created a powerful advocate in local MP Scott Mann, who responded to a letter writing campaign from affected families.
The agency had to work quickly – traditional crisis communications techniques might not have been enough – and with a limited budget. On 6 March, while the council’s key operational staff were tied up in a four-hour meeting, Bowden Derra announced to the media that it was locking council busy bodies out after ‘weeks of unfocused and disruptive visits, claiming that they were starting to impede residents’ care.
The home also confirmed that it had given a detailed official response to the council’s investigation and attended two meetings with council officials but had received no feedback or response to questions. The timing of the announcement meant the council was unable to provide comment to the media prior to publication (mirroring a tactic employed by the council when it announced the investigation). In doing so, PLMR was able to shape the narrative which positioned the care home as a David versus the Cornwall Council Goliath.
It also developed relationships with key local journalists to diminish the influence of the council. Families of residents were made available for media interviews, while a statement from MP Mann highlighted the letters of support he had received which all had one common theme: residents were extremely keen with the level of care from Bowden Derra.
PLMR also continued to communicate with Cornwall Council. As a result of this proactive approach, the council inspections stopped and public criticism of Bowden Derra dissipated. The care home remains open for business.