The nation's healthcare associations evacuated their Washington offices and substituted blood drives for lobbying efforts as they reacted to the tragedy that gripped their members and the nation last week. The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals were among those that sent employees home in an atmosphere described as a war zone.
"I was in our Washington office when the attack was made on the Pentagon," said the Rev. Michael Place, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association, in a memo he sent to ministry colleagues. "It was a chilling site to see the smoke from the Pentagon billowing over the city." The CHA represents more than 600 Catholic hospitals around the country.
The National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, which has offices three blocks from the White House, canceled 120 congressional meetings it had scheduled for the next day. With federal budget bills in play, the association had intended to kick off a lobbying effort but instead evacuated its offices and witnessed the mayhem following the attack on the Pentagon that killed as many as 200 people.
The National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions canceled a reception the night of the attacks and legislative visits the next day, said Gillian Ray, the group's public relations director. About 60 hospital executives, trustees and medical leaders were in Washington for lobbying efforts.
The AMA's 100-person Washington office, about three blocks north of the White House, had closed by early Tuesday morning, and officials canceled a planned press conference with the World Health Organization on antimicrobial resistance. A spokesman for the association's Chicago headquarters said officials had been in touch with state and local medical societies in New York, offering assistance.
The AHA also closed its Washington offices after the attacks, sending home 75 employees. When news of the tragedies first broke, AHA President Richard Davidson was attending a meeting of state and hospital association executives at a Washington hotel.
Throughout last week the AHA updated its members on disaster recovery efforts through daily publications and special fax messages, said James Bentley, senior vice president for strategic policy planning.
AHA Senior Vice President of Communications Richard Wade said the terrorist attacks underscore that hospitals represent an important part of the nation's infrastructure.
Jordan Cohen, M.D., president of the Washington-based Association of American Colleges, said seeing healthcare professionals in action following the attacks showed the level of dedication. "The scenes of New York's hospitals having been converted to battlefield trauma units reminded us all of the health professions' most deeply rooted commitment to serving the public," he said.
The Federation of American Hospitals, which represents the nation's for-profit medical centers, evacuated its 20 Washington employees shortly after evacuations began at the White House and the Capitol, said a federation spokesman.
At the headquarters of the American Association of Health Plans, employees worked to assist Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which had offices in the north tower of the World Trade Center (See story, p. 12). "Throughout our community, there are efforts to make sure we can help Empire so they can help hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom are in need of healthcare services as a result of what happened," said Susan Pisano, an AAHP spokeswoman.
-With Vince Galloro and Michael Romano