A group of 25 exhibitors penned a letter to Hal Wolf, president and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, on Friday to request refunds.
The exhibitors said in the letter, obtained by Modern Healthcare, that they were "shocked" and "angry" that HIMSS has opted not to refund payments the companies had made for space for booths in the conference's exhibition hall. HIMSS canceled its annual trade show just days before the March event was slated to start as COVID-19 related shutdowns began.
The letter was led by workforce management solutions provider Softworks.
"The decision to cancel due to COVID-19 was the right one to keep attendees and in particular our healthcare professionals safe in these unprecedented times, however we take issue with the conduct of the HIMSS organization in the subsequent management of the finances related to this situation," reads the letter. "Because of this, we decided to reach out to other similarly affected organizations, many of who have complained directly to you, but who have not felt listened to and we have joined together with them to send you this letter."
Co-signers on the letter included Akgun Software, Arcserve, BioBright, Bookzurman, Bridge Patient Portal, CyberMDX, DocVilla, Dolphin Data Capture, Dolbey Systems, Estone Technology, Horizon Strategic Partners, Howard Technology Solutions, Infinidat, LEADTOOLS, MD MatchUp, Medical Web Experts, Medlife, SayKara and Triyam.
"Through this letter we are asking you to do the honorable thing and refund 100% of the money paid to the exhibitors below," the letter from exhibitors reads.
HIMSS was unable to comment by deadline.
HIMSS in April said it wouldn't issue refunds to exhibitors and sponsors, but will offer partial credit toward the fees for its annual conferences in 2021 and 2022.
HIMSS has told 2020 exhibitors and sponsors, including Modern Healthcare, that it would credit 25% of their 2020 fees toward their participation in its 2021 and 2022 health information and technology conferences. Participants can credit 15% of their 2020 fees to the 2021 event and 10% to the 2022 event, HIMSS told vendors.
HIMSS has also said that 2020 exhibitors will be able to carry over their staff badges to the conference next year, and offered exhibitors the option to participate in its virtual conference, called HIMSS20 Digital.
In a letter to Softworks CEO Andrew Ferguson responding to the petition, Wolf cited a force majeure clause in its contract with exhibitors. A force majeure clause excuses an entity—in this case, HIMSS—from its contractual obligations when circumstances arise beyond its control.
"In the case of a force majeure event such as the present one, the parties agreed exhibitor fees would not be refundable," Wolf wrote in the letter dated Wednesday, May 27, and obtained by Modern Healthcare. "The non-refund provision of the force majeure clause in our contract reflects the reality that non-profits like HIMSS have fewer financial tools available when a black-swan event like COVID-19 forces a cancellation."
"Our mission could not go forward if, in addition to the advance expenses that we already incurred, HIMSS was required to return the advance payments that make it possible to incur those costs in planning and executing the Global Conference—which in this case was in an advanced stage of construction in Orlando, Florida at the time of cancellation due to COVID-19," the letter continues.
Other associations such as the Healthcare Financial Management Association and American College of Healthcare Executives have offered refunds upon request.