It all made for weird images of conservatively dressed healthcare types, senior citizen basketball fans, and families with young children all walking down Bourbon Street last Friday night past scantily clad women who tried to entice the men into spending some money at the many strip clubs along the nation's most famous party street. Another odd sight was seeing a group of nuns hanging out at the airport bar Saturday evening watching the University of Northern Iowa upset tournament favorite the University of Kansas.
Approximately 1,700 people attended the AMGA conference, a number which broke last year's record by about 100. The growth has not gone without some growing pains as the hotel was said to have been booked some five years ago for last week's event, and the organization has experienced major increases in membership and political clout since then. As a result, the conference exhibit hall's 110 booths overflowed into a maze of adjoining rooms.
To get people as deep into the catacombs as possible, the only bar at the opening-night reception serving the city's signature cocktail, the Hurricane, was located in the very back corner of the labyrinth's innermost room. Also, vendor QSI Electronic Billing and Mailing Services lured attendees to their booth and to other backwater areas of the hall with large flat-screen televisions tuned to the “March Madness” broadcast.
As attendees arrived, they received the usual tote bag full of goodies. This year's items included political material for two AMGA members' congressional campaigns. Former AMGA Chairman Ronald Kirkland, also a former chairman of the board at the Jackson (Tenn.) Clinic, is seeking the Republican nomination for Tennessee's 8th Congressional District, which “stretches from the suburbs of Memphis to the suburbs of Nashville,” according to Kirkland's campaign flyer. Nan Hayworth, a former ophthalmologist with the Mount Kisco (N.Y.) Medical Group where her husband—AMGA chair-elect Scott Hayworth is the president and CEO—is running for the Republican nomination in New York's 19th Congressional District.
AMGA President and CEO Donald Fisher opened the conference last Friday morning by speaking of how healthcare reform “took off like a rocket” during the 2008 presidential election campaign, then slowed to a crawl as it entered the legislative arena and then morphed into insurance reform, which he said was “a safer, more marketable message.”
“I'm pleased to say we've been major players on healthcare reform,” Fisher said, noting—in particular—the AMGA's role in drafting language on accountable care organizations, or ACOs, in the Senate Finance Committee's reform bill.
Also mentioned were the AMGA's efforts in keeping CT, PET and MRI scans on the list of “in office” exceptions to the Stark law, and its opposition to the public option insurance plan “because of its uncertain financing.”
“If reform legislation passes, several of our ideas will become law,” Fisher said and, if it didn't, the AMGA will attach those ideas to other legislative vehicles. “I remain optimistic that ACOs will become law.”
Fisher was followed by David Bronson, who chairs both the AMGA and the Cleveland Clinic Medicine Unit. He opened his talk by saying: “We know we have the right model of care, but what do others think?”
Then a video was played that featured President Barack Obama describing “islands of excellence” in healthcare such as the Cleveland Clinic; Intermountain Healthcare, Salt Lake City; Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.; and Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa.—which the president mispronounced as “guessinger.”
Not coincidentally, all of the systems mentioned are AMGA member groups, and Bronson asked audience members who belonged to the groups Obama talked about to please stand up. “Especially gissinger,” Bronson joked.
He then stirred up the crowd by stating that the AMGA's core principles of quality, patient-centered care, teamwork and collaboration, accountability and transparency, innovation, and physician leadership and self-government have resulted in “the best medicine in America, the best medicine for America.”
Bronson got in one more joke before leaving the stage. While introducing Atul Gawande, author and Harvard University School of Public Health associate professor, Bronson noted how he enjoyed reading the keynote speaker's newest book: The Checklist Manifesto.
“I was going to have him autograph it,” Bronson quipped. “But it's on my Kindle.”
The next day, another Harvard faculty member, business school professor and former Medtronic CEO Bill George told attendees at his Saturday-morning keynote address on March 20 that it was time to move healthcare out of the political arena and to “recognize that healthcare is a local business”—a business that is going to change very significantly very soon.
George left the group with seven common-sense take-home lessons: Face reality and admit mistakes; “Don't be Atlas” and maintain resilience; dig deep for a problem's root cause; get ready for the long haul; own problems and don't try to cover them up; and go on the offensive.
“You can win by doing better,” George concluded. “Get out in front of issues. … When that bill is passed tomorrow, things are going to change,” he said the day before the House passed the healthcare reform legislation.
Of course, there was more going on in New Orleans last week than basketball and healthcare-related political discussions. It seemed like every French Quarter restaurant had lines going out the door. And, although New Orleans is revered as a cradle of American music innovation, most of what was being heard on Bourbon Street last Thursday night appeared to be played by mediocre cover bands with lead singers prone to histrionics. Fortunately, on a previous visit, I learned where to go to hear live music on Thursday nights in New Orleans: the Maple Leaf Bar.
I don't think it's known on Wednesday night what the exact lineup will be, but The Trio claims the stage every Thursday.
Crazy man drummer Johnny Vidacovich, who usually leads the crew, wasn't there. But Dirty Dozen Brass Band drummer Terence Higgins filled in, literally without missing a beat. Without Vidacovich, the combo was led by its other regular, George Porter Jr., best known as the bassist for the Meters, probably the city's second-most-famous band after the Neville Brothers. Filling out the group was the son of a Neville, Ivan, scion of Aaron, playing keyboards and doing most of the singing.
The band began with a free-form funk jam that bled into Gil Scott Heron's “Grandma's Hands” before somehow segueing into a high-energy version of Bobbie Gentry's “Ode to Billy Joe.” Really.
As that ended, I walked into the other room where folks' eyes were glued to TVs showing Wake Forest defeating Texas in the final seconds of overtime at the Super Dome.
There was a lot going on in New Orleans last week.
Andis Robeznieks reports on physician issues, healthcare construction/design and healthcare marketing. He covers healthcare business news in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
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