More than a week before the March 11 KHC 2020 Annual Conference, the KHC began making adjustments to meet the COVID-19 best practice guidelines for events in response to the quickly changing landscape of the spread of the virus. That all changed when COVID-19 reached Louisville on March 8, just three days before KHC’s biggest event of the year. Dr. Sarah Moyer, Louisville’s Health Department Director and KHC Board member, recommended the KHC either postpone or go virtual with the conference, becoming one of Louisville’s first events faced with this difficult decision. Because the health of the community has always been at the core of the KHC’s mission, it was an easy decision to cancel the in-person event and go virtual. Making it a reality was much more challenging.
Monday morning was a blur of activity, securing a technology solution and learning we would be unable to cancel a majority of our event expenses. Our top priority was to create a professional and interactive experience for our attendees who paid for an in-person event, not a virtual one. As the KHC’s biggest annual fundraiser, the other big concern was that our sponsors and exhibitors had paid for the opportunity to network and showcase their work at both a reception and conference, not a virtual one. In response, we offered some new benefits to our sponsors and exhibitors, offered to work with all of our partners individually, and offered refunds to anyone not satisfied with the event.
What was expected to be the KHC’s biggest conference yet in terms of number of attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors turned out to be its best for an entirely different reason. The rallying of the community in support of the work of the KHC and its mission could be felt by the entire staff through texts, emails, tweets, and kind words. We were overwhelmed by the positive response and support we received from our conference sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, and speakers, as well as KHC board members, partners, and KHC member organizations. With only a few technology hiccups and a few refunds requested, the KHC can officially claim to have hosted a successful virtual conference with two days lead time. Even more exciting was our ability to donate our $10,000 of uncooked food to Uspiritus Brooklawn, a psychiatric residential treatment center and private childcare residential facility for adolescents and children.
The conference kicked off with Kennan Wethington, President of presenting sponsor Anthem of Kentucky, sharing inspiring words on the need to humanize healthcare and words of comfort as the KHC’s conference marked the first day of the WHO declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. Next, Dr. Moyer took time from her response work to share the latest updates on COVID-19 cases and prevention recommendations. Another milestone of the event was a special recognition of Dr. Teresa Couts, KHC Co-Director, for her exemplary leadership, as the event marked her last conference before the next chapter of her career.
The “Humanizing Healthcare” conference keynote speaker, Dr. Zeev Neuwirth, did not disappoint in sharing how to create a thriving consumer-oriented, value-based, humanistic healthcare system as outlined in his book, “Reframing Healthcare – A Roadmap for Creating Disruptive Change.” He was as engaging virtually as I’m sure he would have been in person. One of our attendees commented, “I was more engaged in this conference than others and loved the virtual option!”
Speaker Lynn Quincy of Altarum shared what consumers really want from healthcare and stated that healthcare affordability was Kentuckians’ top priority. Anthem, Artemis, and Castlight showcased several innovative services and strategies designed around healthcare consumer needs and wants. The afternoon was spent with several key national and local healthcare stakeholders sharing their strategies and collaboration efforts to improve health and health equity by addressing social, economic, and environmental factors that influence health.
Our entire team felt good about the event and was pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement by attendees chatting and asking questions of speakers. I want to give a special thanks to Natalie Middaugh, KHC Community Health Program Manager, who brilliantly managed all of the technology, and Stephanie Clouser, KHC Data Scientist, who so eloquently communicated all of these changes to everyone; the event would not have been possible without their hard work and dedication to making this event a reality.
We now have a reputation for being the non-profit coalition that was able to pivot to a virtual event in just two days. I was able to present how we did it at the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions last week. I closed my presentation to my peers facing the same scenario that it was in fact our community and partners’ incredible generosity and graciousness that made the conference successful. Thank you to all of our sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, members, and board for your support. It is clear that COVID-19 has not only spread fear and uncertainty across our communities but also kindness.