HealthSouth looks to Joele Frank amid growing PR ills

BIRMINGHAM, AL: Three weeks after healthcare services provider HealthSouth began to unravel in a manner reminiscent of Enron and WorldCom, the company decided it was time to hire a crisis PR specialist, tapping New York-based Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher.

BIRMINGHAM, AL: Three weeks after healthcare services provider HealthSouth began to unravel in a manner reminiscent of Enron and WorldCom, the company decided it was time to hire a crisis PR specialist, tapping New York-based Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher.

Firm partner Andrew Brimmer has temporarily relocated to company offices in Birmingham to lead the effort.

The decision to bring in Joele Frank comes just two weeks after HealthSouth tapped healthcare PR specialist Euro RSCG Life NRP (formerly Noonan Russo) to help handle the media whirlwind that has engulfed the now-disgraced company.

Although NRP has crisis experience, the firm's president Susan Noonan said she understands the company's decision to recruit Joele Frank, given the extraordinary scope of the crisis.

"I think the company was happy with the work we did for them in the early days of this situation," said Noonan.

An executive at Joele Frank declined to comment on the HealthSouth assignment.

By PRWeek's press time, nine HealthSouth executives so far had plead guilty to criminal charges for their role in an alleged $2.5 billion fraud.

The main allegation against the firm is that HealthSouth officials created fictitious financial statements in an effort to deceive Wall Street about the company's true financial condition.

The media frenzy surrounding HealthSouth has been unrelenting since news of the alleged fraud broke three weeks ago.

Media inquires have reached as many as 100 in a single day, with journalists seeking immediate company comment into the early-morning hours, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The baton pass to Joele Frank from NRP marks the second change in PR leadership since the crisis hit - the first occurred in-house. HealthSouth's original communications head was former child TV star Jason Hervey, best known as the belligerent older brother, Wayne Arnold, on the series The Wonder Years.

Hervey had limited communications experience, and was reportedly a close adviser to recently ousted HealthSouth founder and CEO Richard Scrushy.

Hervey was dismissed shortly after the scandal broke, according to sources.

Last Wednesday, Scrushy repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a court hearing at which the SEC attempted to maintain a freeze on much of Scrushy's assets.

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