As long as everyone else in this industry seems to be preoccupied with thoughts of chemical and biological attacks, Outliers thought, why should we be different? So here are some highlights of another week on the bioterrorism front:
* The Radiological Society of North America waded into Chicago politics with a letter to Mayor Richard Daley expressing fears about private planes crashing into the site of the society's upcoming annual conference.
About a dozen registrants for the RSNA's 65,000-person gathering had called the society to say they might not attend the Nov. 25-30 event at the gargantuan McCormick Place exposition center given that a small airport, Meigs Field, is just a few hundred yards away. In August, the last commercial flight from Meigs departed, leaving only corporate and personal jets and prop planes using the 91-acre facility along Lake Michigan.
What the attendees may not have known is that they were playing into the hands of the mayor, who is pressing ahead with a plan to bulldoze Meigs Feb. 10 and turn it into a nature preserve. The mayor promptly mentioned the letter at a news conference, where he was discussing the proposed expansion of O'Hare International Airport. Illinois Gov. George Ryan and other officials want to trade their backing of the O'Hare plan for keeping Meigs open for corporate jets and private planes.
"We relayed sincere concerns expressed by members to the mayor, but we are not pulling out of Chicago" even if planes are using Meigs during the meeting, says Marijo Zerfoss, senior manager of public information at the RSNA.
Even though Daley has no plans to close Meigs for the RSNA meeting, the group's letter "brought up many of the concerns that the mayor has" about terrorism being launched from Meigs, says Roderick Drew, a press aide to the mayor.
Phil Boyer, president of the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, says more radiologists will fly into Meigs on private planes for the conference than will opt out from fear that a terrorist attack will come from Meigs.
* Meanwhile, concerns over terrorism and travel safety appear to have been behind lower-than-expected attendance at two other large medical gatherings.
The American Heart Association had expected perhaps 30,000 professionals to register for its annual scientific sessions in Anaheim, Calif., last week, but only 23,500 showed up at the four-day event. Most of the no-shows were from other countries, Reuters reported.
In San Francisco, only about 7,000 of an expected 8,300 professionals signed up for the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.
"Most of our drop-off is from international attendees. I assume they are concerned over the recent events," says Tammy Cussimanio, spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based college.
* With an industry riveted by the sudden need to prepare for a terrorist threat, many groups are revamping their agenda to talk about-you guessed it-bioterrorism.
For example, the American Association of Medical Colleges added a speech on anthrax by Ivan Walks, M.D., chief health officer of the District of Columbia, and a panel discussion with representatives from hospitals that treated patients in the Sept. 11 attacks to its annual meeting in Washington this month.
About eight hours of bioterrorism and disaster-preparedness education were added to the American Medical Association's winter meeting, scheduled for early December. The same week, a session titled "Bioterrorism's Impact on Health System Leaders," featuring speakers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, will be featured at the International Summit on the Private Health Sector in Miami.
In some cases, programs were canceled or shortened to accommodate the new offerings. And it's unclear whether the additions will bolster attendance, which is down as much as 35%, according to the groups Outliers contacted.
* Finally, four-hospital Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County, Fla., is testing the limits of caution by opening all letters, cards and packages addressed to patients. If patients don't consent, their mail is forwarded home.
"If (a dangerous substance is found), we could at least contain it," Tara Bauer, a Memorial spokeswoman, told the Miami Herald.
Wonder what they are going to do with all those flowers.