Preventing and Handling a Tragedy

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In February 2012, a tragic event occurred: A 22-year-old woman collapsed in a stall in the women’s locker room at a Planet Fitness in Bay Shore, New York. An hour later, she was dead. The family of the woman is now suing Planet Fitness, claiming that the sole staff member on site at the time did not help her. That staff member, according to reports, was male, and when he was alerted by a female member of the gym that a woman had collapsed, he replied that he was not allowed to enter the locker room.

Her death is a horrible and unfortunate thing (it turns out she had a heart attack, caused by an underlying condition that had never been diagnosed). It would have been horrible and unfortunate no matter where it occurred – but what if it had been at your facility? What would you do if a tragedy occurred at your gym or health club, and you were facing a lawsuit? What steps should you take? And, perhaps more importantly, how can you prevent such a thing from happening in the first place?

Prevention begins with preparation. If possible, always have at least one male and one female staff member on site at a given time. More importantly, make sure that all staff members know emergency procedures. Make sure they recognize when an emergency situation, such as the collapse of a gym member, trumps the usual rules, such as no men in the women’s locker room. Also, have on site at all times an automated external defibrillator (AED) and an employee who knows how to use it. Train your staff in first aid. Teach them that, if they’re wondering whether to call 911, it’s better to err on the side of overreacting.

If the worst thing happens despite your efforts, your attorneys will work hard to achieve fairness and keep your business going (make sure you have good ones). Meanwhile, focus your energy on open and honest communication with your members. Try to make sure they find out from you, before they find out from the media or from rumors, what happened. Be clear about any oversights that might have occurred on the part of your facility and explain the steps the facility will take to avoid such oversights in the future. Reassure them that your business will recover from any blows and will be stronger from the lessons learned, and apologize for any discomfort or doubt the incident might have caused. Invite them to speak with high-level staff members to share any concerns they might have.
If the press gets involved, follow the advice of your attorneys, of course. Convey as much detail about the situation as you are able to, with an emphasis on steps you are taking to fix any errors. Deal with reporters straightforwardly.

The tragic incident at the Bay Shore Planet Fitness will be remembered and mourned. It will also be learned from, assisting other gyms owners in preventing and handling a tragedy in the future.

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