HFMA President and CEO Joe Fifer: Why HFMA is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to attend the 2021 Annual Conference
We are looking forward to holding HFMA’s Annual Conference Nov. 8-10 in Minneapolis for many reasons. After our June 2020 pivot to virtual conferences, it’s a welcome return to gathering in person. It’s a time to celebrate HFMA’s 75th anniversary. And it’s an opportunity to experience all that the premier event in healthcare finance has to offer.
Recently, it has become clear to me that the best way — maybe the only way — for everyone involved to fully enjoy this event is to limit in-person attendance to those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
HFMA has made the decision to require that everyone on-site at the Annual Conference in Minneapolis — including attendees, faculty, exhibitors, volunteer leaders, staff members and backstage crew — provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination. With the conference less than three months away, I felt it was important to let the entire HFMA community know about this immediately after the decision was made.
We know this decision raises questions. Logistics are being developed to make the proof-of-vaccination process as easy and convenient as possible. Details will be provided soon on the conference website. A virtual attendance option is available for individuals who cannot or choose not to be vaccinated, as well as those who cannot travel for any reason.
This requirement is first and foremost a matter of health and safety. It goes without saying that the well-being of everyone who will be on-site at this HFMA event is our top priority. But my thoughts on this topic go beyond that.
Perhaps some of you saw National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins being interviewed Aug. 15 on “Fox News Sunday.” His remarks were covered by Politico and other media outlets. Dr. Collins warned that the continuing rise of COVID-19 cases propelled by the Delta variant could return our country to the worst days of the pandemic.
“Here we are with [the] Delta variant, which is so contagious, and this heartbreaking situation where 90 million people are still unvaccinated, who are sitting ducks for this virus, and that's the mess we are in,” Dr. Collins told the Fox interviewer. “We are in a world of hurt, and it's a critical juncture to try to do everything we can to turn that around.”
“Heartbreaking … sitting ducks … a world of hurt.” Dr. Collins is a scientist and not given to using such fraught language. As data-driven finance professionals, we aren’t accustomed to it either. But there’s a reason I’m not citing data now: Data about the pandemic trajectory and vaccine efficacy abounds. It’s on every news screen. Each day brings more. And data is not changing the hearts and minds of people who have yet to be vaccinated.
If you work in a provider organization, or you know someone who does, perhaps you know the toll this latest stage of the pandemic is taking on clinicians. I know. My daughter is a physician assistant in a cardiothoracic intensive care unit at a major medical center in Michigan.
Like my daughter, many clinicians have experienced nearly 18 months of working long hours in difficult conditions, limiting contact with their families and loved ones and witnessing suffering and death as a result of the pandemic. Earlier this year, after COVID-19 vaccines became available, it seemed like the worst would soon be over. But vaccine hesitancy is fueling a new surge of COVID-19 cases, stretching and sometimes overwhelming hospital capacity and putting vulnerable Americans — including children — at risk. Now, for some workers on the front lines, exhaustion and stress are turning to anger and resentment. It doesn’t have to be this way.
HFMA’s highest honor, the Richard L. Clarke Board of Directors Award, is being presented to our nation’s front-line healthcare workers at the Annual Conference. Several workers will be present to accept the award on behalf of their colleagues across the nation. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a way to demonstrate our support for them. And at the end of the day, it’s just the right thing to do.
I hope to see you in Minneapolis.