“How much longer?” As a kid, I can remember the long holiday car ride with my parents from my home in Annapolis, Md., to Upstate New York where my grandparents lived. At the time, the ride felt like an eternity: endless miles of frozen landscape, limited food, and a brother who constantly crossed over the invisible line that was my side of the car.
We made our parents crazy asking, “how much longer?” every few minutes. This was the late 1970s, with no GPS or Google Maps to give you arrival times to the minute, traffic warnings, or reroutes when the inevitable delays occurred. We just plowed ahead, and my parents’ answer was always something vague like, “in a few hours” or “we’re about halfway through.” They did not know when we’d arrive with certainty either.
We at SHM have that same feeling about the pandemic. How much longer? No one can tell us when the COVID-19 threat will abate. The experts’ answers are understandably vague, and the tools for forecasting are non-existent. Months? That is the best we know for now.
At SHM, we believe we will make it through this journey by adapting to roadblocks, providing tools for success to our professional community, and identifying opportunities for us to connect with each other, even if that means virtually.
Like the rest of the planet, the spring of 2020 hit SHM with a shock. Hospital Medicine 2020 (HM20) in San Diego was shaping up to be the largest Annual Conference SHM ever had, the Pediatric Hospital Medicine 2020 (PHM20) conference was well planned and expected to be a huge success, regional SHM chapters were meeting (and growing), and membership was thriving. I was transitioning out of my roles at Johns Hopkins and looking forward to my new role as CEO of SHM. All in all, March 2020 began with a fantastic outlook.
Wow, what a difference a few weeks made. We watched as the pandemic spread across regions of the country, concerned for the wellbeing of our patients and our hospitalists. We saw how our members were at the forefront of patient care during this crisis and understood that SHM had to adapt rapidly to meet their needs in real time.
By May, SHM had canceled HM20, Chapter activity was halted, PHM20 was on its way to being canceled, SHM committee work was put on hold, and I was spending my last few months at Hopkins as the chief medical officer at the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital (which we got up and running in less than a month)! Whew.
But just like my dad could pivot our 1970s Chevy station wagon around a traffic jam in a flash, so too did SHM leadership start navigating around the COVID-19 landscape. As soon as HM20 was canceled, SHM immediately began planning for a virtual offering in August. We had hoped to attract at least 100 attendees and we were thrilled to have more than 1,000! PHM20 was switched from an in-person to a virtual meeting with 634 attendees. We launched numerous COVID-19 webinars and made our clinical and educational offerings open access. Our Public Policy Committee was active around both COVID-19 and hospitalist-related topics – immigration, telehealth, wellbeing, and financial impacts, to name a few. (And I even met with the POTUS & advocated for PPE.) The Journal of Hospital Medicine worked with authors to get important publications out at record speed. And of course, The Hospitalist connected all of us to our professional leaders and experts.
By the fall of 2020, SHM had actively adjusted to the “new normal” of this pandemic: SHM staff have settled into their new “work from home” environments, SHM Chapters are connecting members in the virtual world, SHM’s 2021 Annual Conference will be all virtual – rebranded as “SHM Converge” – and the State of Hospital Medicine Report (our every-other-year source for trends in hospital medicine) now has a COVID-19 supplement, which was developed at lightning speed. Even our SHM Board of Directors is meeting virtually! All this while advancing the routine work at SHM, which never faltered. Our work on resources for quality improvement, the opioid epidemic, wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), leadership, professional development, advocacy, and so much more is as active as ever.
I don’t know how much longer we have on this very long pandemic journey, so I’ll use my father’s answer of “we’re about halfway through.” We have been immersed in it for months already, with months still ahead. But regardless of the upcoming twists and turns COVID-19 forces you, our patients, and our larger society to take, SHM is ready to change direction faster than a 1970s Chevy. The SHM staff, leadership, and members will be sure that hospitalists receive the tools to navigate these unprecedented times. Our patients need our skills to get through this as safely as possible. While we may not be able to tell them “how much longer,” we can certainly be prepared for the long road ahead as we begin 2021.
Dr. Howell is CEO of the Society of Hospital Medicine.