Monday, January 24, 2022

The Annual Assembly and COVID

by Christian Sinclair (@ctsinclair)

Last week, many hospice and palliative care clinicians and advocates received the unfortunate news that the 2022 Annual Assembly of Hospice and Palliative Care (#hapc22) was moving from hybrid (both in person and virtual) to virtual only. The board of directors of AAHPM and HPNA "considered the current strain on health care systems, personnel and their families" when making the decision. And then one week later, many presenters found out their presentations were not going to be in the virtual-only assembly. That is immensely disappointing. I received notice that my talks - on which colleagues and I had spent hours working - were canceled too. I was shocked at first, then mad, a little incredulous, then sad I would not get to share my work with a wider audience. Online, others shared similar emotions about the bad news. It really stinks.

I think it is critical to direct the majority of ire at COVID, which threw us all a curve ball with omicron. Honestly going into October and November, many clinicians I know were beginning to regain that hope and return to normal. The clinic visits were more often in-person (rather than telehealth). We had meetings with small groups in big rooms. All signs pointed to "Yes!" An in-person Annual Assembly in Feb 2022 seemed possible. So when you feel angry, make sure to direct that anger at COVID..

As for mitigation of risk, or different strategies, or communication planning around this issue, it is reasonable to ask for more information from the two organizations, but let's make sure we are asking the right questions and the right people. The strategy is the responsibility of the board of an organization. The staff of an organization is responsible for executing on the plan set out by the board. Boards need to make very difficult decisions. From personal experience, those conversations before the decision can also be quite challenging. I think the business meetings for both HPNA and AAHPM should be high on your priority list if you want to hear more about how we got here. If you want more information or have issues with how things were handled, reach out to board members to tell them what is important to you.

One thing to keep in mind is that leadership is likely feeling some of the same emotions we are feeling. I know this from personally working with the AAHPM and HPNA staff. They put a lot of time and effort into making the 2022 Annual Assembly happen, and now a lot of that work is lost. So when reaching out to them for clarification or giving feedback, make sure to appreciate the ripple effects of COVID and that many of these decisions are often more difficult than they appear on the surface.

And if you still don't like how leaders are making decisions, then consider running for a volunteer position. Influence in a way that you think is best. There are always volunteer roles to fill. And it offers a perspective that things are often more difficult than they appear on the surface.

And lastly,I'm sorry that your work and the work of your colleagues and mentees won't get the attention of a national meeting. And yet, the good work is done. It just needs a little extra effort to find a home. Like one of my favorite quotes from Austin Kleon, "Do good work, and put it where people can see it." Already online, there are venues like HAPC Virtual Didactics, Friday Chalk Talk, GeriPal, and even Pallimed, making themselves available to repurpose or rework content. Honestly, this is something I would love to see our field do more of. Don't stop at "Well, I presented at the Annual Assembly. My work is done here." Call up colleagues at other institutions and let them know you have an excellent presentation for their next grand rounds. Do a media tour for the field: pitch your content to your local news media or write an editorial for national outlets like NYT, WaPo, The Atlantic, etc. Write a paper and publish it in an academic journal. Some of this you can do all on your own, some of it may require activating your mentor and peer network. So yes, feel your feelings, and then get to work finding a home for your great work. All is not lost.



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Christian Sinclair, MD, FAAHPM is a palliative care physician at the University of Kansas Health System, editor-in-chief of Pallimed,and trying to keep up a resolution to write more about palliative care in 2022.

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