Some healthcare associations—eager to ramp up one of their most important revenue streams—are bringing back in-person events this summer.
Trade groups that support healthcare providers pivoted to virtual events when the pandemic struck, but quickly learned they make far less money that way. Now that COVID vaccines are gaining momentum, some groups are betting their members will want to get together in person—with masks and plenty of space—as early as June.
The Federation of American Hospitals, a trade group that represents for-profit hospitals, expects roughly 800 people to attend its conference June 6 to 8 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, where some of its largest members are headquartered.
"There's just been such support and anxiousness to get everyone together who comes to this meeting," said Chip Kahn, FAH's CEO.
The FAH's conference is bigger and happening sooner than most other associations' events, said Krista LeZotte, senior director of meeting operations & engagement with the American Society of Association Executives.
"I know there are some outliers out there who are having some bigger meetings," she said, "but I think the majority of folks are holding out for late summer, early fall to really dive into any in-person meetings."
The Healthcare Financial Management Association went the opposite route of FAH, postponing until November its annual conference that had been scheduled for late June. HFMA also moved the event from Boston to Minneapolis.
The big unanswered question is whether associations will require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or negative test results to enter events. Most haven't decided.
Modern Healthcare will be hosting its annual invite-only gathering of top executives on Sept 28 & 29 in person in Scottsdale. The Best Places gala in the fall may also be in person.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society—better known as HIMSS and also usually among the largest such gatherings—has not yet released safety plans for its annual trade show in August in Las Vegas. HIMSS, which declined to comment, found itself in hot water last March for refusing to offer refunds after canceling the event days before it was slated to begin. This year, cancellations are refundable—minus $100—until June 14.
FAH won't require COVID-19 vaccinations or test results for its Nashville event, although safety protocols will include masks at all times, temperature checks and six feet of distance between attendees, Kahn said. Attendance at the event will also be smaller than prior years, which previously saw up to 1,400 people, he said.
The Medical Group Management Association hasn't decided whether it'll require people at its in-person conference in San Diego in November to provide proof of vaccination or test results, said Andrew Swanson, MGMA's vice president of industry insights. A complicating factor is that any requirements made of attendees also must be made of event staff, which includes food service workers, hoteliers, airline staff and Uber drivers, Swanson said.
"It's as much about the labor who helps put on these events as it is the attendees themselves," he said.
HFMA also hasn't decided whether it'll require vaccinations or test results at its November event, Katie Gilfillan, the group's director of professional practice and clinical relationships, wrote in an email. She said the organization is soliciting member feedback on safety protocols.
The ASAE's LeZotte said associations ought to check with their legal teams on what they can and cannot require. Rules in specific states and venues matter, too. Some associations are having attendees sign liability waivers that they don't have fevers and won't hold the event hosts liable if they get sick, she said.
"It's interesting territory for everybody to navigate," she said.