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A Health Security Plan for the “new normal” of In-person Meetings

In writing my book, “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings,” I refer to meeting planning as the PROCESS or system one uses to provide the necessary structure and tools required to streamline the planning and executing of a meeting or event.

The PROCESS in order to be successful requires a PLAN (the long version of which I call an OVERALL MEETING ACTION PLAN) -- a series of actionable items and the sequence of tasks you and your Planning Team develop and follow to accomplish the intended goals and objectives.

There are additional components that come into play within this infamous PLAN that because of their nature and complexity require their own set of protocols, action items and task lists such as with the Crisis Risk Management Plan (CRMP) and the Medical Risk Management Plan (MRMP).

  • A Crisis Management Plan (CRMP) (sometimes referred to as an Emergency Preparedness Plan) is a document that identifies and assesses potential risks, defines the processes and best practices an organization will use to respond to critical situations, and provides guidance and information to staff to help mitigate risk.

  • A Medical Risk Management Plan (MRMP) identifies potential medical risks from a “routine” medical emergency like a slip and fall to a major cardiac event to risks specific to your event and location that might occur and defines the action steps, processes and best practices for responding to each.

And NOW, we have need for yet another PLAN – one that addresses the fundamental elements required to insure the health, safety, security and confidence of meeting hosts and participants as we return to in-person meetings on a global perspective – a Health Security Plan (HSP).

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic and traumatic impact on the whole world -- economically AND psychologically. While much has been lost, much has been learned and much has been accomplished. I mean, who would have believed that in less than a year, there would be a vaccine not only developed, but distributed to help combat the virus. Look also at all the new safety protocols and financial commitments hotels and resorts and other associated venues have made and continue to make to accommodate guests in an effort to operate in the “new normal.”

The world will continue to recover and rebound, but through this all we seem to have lost our confidence, our sense of “health security” as some refer to it as, and we in the hospitality industry need to now work through these “insecurities” so that in-person meetings and other social events can once again happen.

The overall purpose of a Health Security Plan is to define and communicate the protocols and guidance that will ultimately help foster a sense of “global health security” within the meeting and event industry moving forward.

One such organization that is helping to foster this much needed sense of “global health security” is InHouse Physicians.

InHouse Physicians

In the fall of 2019, I was introduced to InHouse Physicians, a service founded in1992 by Jonathan Spero, MD, an Emergency Room physician who recognized a need for on-call medical specialists to deliver high quality health care treatment (referred to as “Duty- of-Care”) to meeting attendees who become ill, injured or require acute care while attending a meeting in the U.S. or internationally.

“There is nothing associated with more liability at an event than a medical emergency improperly managed.” Jonathan Spero, MD | CEO, InHouse Physicians.

  • InHouse Physicians provides concierge duty-of-care services that include an on-site urgent care equipped with emergency medical equipment and a mobile pharmacy, staffed with medical clinicians offering 24x7 support. The outcome...a robust solution for Duty-of-Care, mitigating the need for attendees to leave the venue for medical support, and ensuring HIPAA compliance. Most importantly, highly satisfied and engaged attendees, with confidence in their health security.

Since its inception, IHP has provided duty-of-care services at over 5,000 conferences in 51 countries, treating nearly 300,000 patients.

Since the pandemic iHP has been a leader in COVID-Care, supporting fortune 1,000 companies with back-to-work strategies, providing rapid COVID testing in primary and secondary education, aviation, and the film industry, and continuing to support Meeting & Event partners with on-site Health Security and COVID-19 risk-mitigation protocols.

The learnings have been many over the last 12 months. The key learning...we can’t under-estimate the importance of developing and executing a strong Health Security Plan for those attending in-person events.

To learn more about InHouse Physicians and the services they provide visit their website.

Having trained medical professionals on-site especially for large programs, high profile meetings such as Board of Directors Meetings, and/or international meetings where response time and/or quality of care may not be up to par would go far to insure that your medical emergencies were properly managed.

During my tenure as a corporate meeting planner, we had corporate security officers who traveled with us to our larger meetings and our Board of Directors Meetings who were CPR and AED trained and who could tend to non-life threatening situations. There were procedures to follow, but we didn’t have medical/emergency professionals on site specifically to handle more urgent life-threatening issues. However, one could make a pretty good argument for doing so in the right set of circumstances.

Global Health Security

After a year of watching the hospital industry’s devastated downfall in light of COVID-19, we are finally seeing a glimmer of hope within the industry amid a call for in-person meetings.

Global Health Security, according to the World Health Organization is defined as “the activities required to minimize the danger and impact of acute public health events that endanger the collective health of populations living across geographical regions and international boundaries.”

And, according to Dr. Spero: “The meeting industry has a responsibility to keep people safe. We need to do this to build a safer future for humanity and protect the meeting industry collectively. The meeting industry also has a moral obligation to be a part of the solution in containing COVID-19 by partnering with the public health community to promote Health Security.”

Further, Dr. Spero says that “while the ongoing expansion of those vaccinated is a significant win, the COVID-19 virus isn’t likely to magically disappear. Although less frequent, cases will continue to occur, and the persistent fear of this virus will linger.” To help alleviate this “fear,” and to get us to better function in this “new normal” world we live and work in, planners and their organizations need a plan to demonstrate to their employees and clients the ways in which they are addressing the risks associated with moving to in-person meetings and events.

The template for a Health Security Plan as developed by InHouse Physicians looks like this.

Health Security Plan

An effective Health Security Plan should be developed in partnership with leaders from within your organization from such areas as HR, Legal, Corporate Security, Communication, and, if applicable, Event Management.

An effective Health Security Plan should include the following three foundational elements:

1. Prevention

2. Detection

3. Medical Response

Further, within these three foundational elements, your HSP should include the following strategies (or action items).

Sick Attendee Policy (Prevention)

This is a crucial first step and provides for the creation and implementation of a policy an organization must develop to protect meeting participants from exposure to COVID-19 by keeping ill attendees from coming to the meeting in the first place. For instance, the policy should communicate to everyone: If you are sick, stay home. If you get sick at the meeting, stay in your hotel room. And, the policy must include a mechanism for monitoring and enforcing adherence to the policy.

Disinfection Plan

Frequent disinfection of surfaces is a powerful way to protect attendees from COVID-19 infection. A course of action would include:

  • Cleaning/disinfection of all meeting surfaces at least twice a day.

  • Cleaning of shared attendee surfaces more frequently.

  • Providing hand sanitizer stations next to all meeting areas and meal locations.

  • Including individual hand sanitizer wipes or containers in registration packets.

Pre-Conference Screening

To support the Sick Attendee Policy, consider hiring a healthcare partner to perform, in a HIPAA compliant manner, a brief online COVID Screening Survey. With this survey, attendees would be asked a series of questions each morning of the program prior to leaving their hotel rooms. These same questions could also be asked of attendees prior to departing their cities of origin. This pre-screening would funnel “high risk” attendees to a telemedicine hotline that could determine if the attendee may need to get COVID testing before coming to the meeting.

Temperature Checks

Fever is the most common symptom associated with a COVID-19 infection and temperature checkpoints are an efficient way to screen attendees.

  • Engage a 3rd party to perform temp checks.

  • Consider screenings at registration desk and during general sessions.

  • Utilize infrared no contact thermometers.

Wellness Program

Our most powerful defense from COVID-19 is our immune system. It turns out that sleep, nutrition, and how you manage stress all affect how well your immune system functions. You can support your attendees’ immune system by placing more emphasis on wellness initiatives at your meetings.

On-Site Medical (Medical Response)

Meeting participants need to be assured that you’ve taken extra steps to foster a safe meeting environment. Medical Response options for you to consider and communicate to your guests include:

  • On-site Medical Care – through vendors such as InHouse Physicians.

  • Developing a relationship with a local Urgent Care Center versus the more costly hospital Emergency Room visit.

  • Telemedicine – a practical way to address attendee health issues, minus the ability to perform COVID-19 testing on-site.

Whatever option you choose, it should ideally have the ability to:

  • Provide medical evaluation for flue related illnesses.

  • Perform rapid Flu and COVID-19 testing.

  • Prescribe (and dispense) medications.

  • Dispense masks for respiratory illnesses.

Communication Strategy

Clear communication of the elements of the Health Security Plan is tantamount to insuring the health of the meeting industry and the world as a whole and should focus on the three elements of Health Security: Prevention, Detection and Medical Response.

a) Outline the communication channels available to reach attendees– i.e. email, Intranet postings, fliers, posters, videos, blog posts, FAQs and have a "source of truth" resource where employees can go to for the latest updates (this could be a company intranet site or a physical location such as a bulletin board).

b) Partner with legal, human resources (HR) and other key leadership for timely review and approval of all messaging and materials prior to distribution.

c) Designate a point person to stay on top of developments, manage the communication process, and receive and respond to employee concerns.

  • Establish a line of communication for attendees to submit questions related to prevention and preparedness and post answers to questions that may be of general interest.

  • Establish go-to resources to help distribute key messages and answer attendee questions/concerns.

d) Carefully consider your messaging – state the facts, outline the impact, share Health Security measures being taken:

  • Provide ongoing assurance that the organization is safeguarding attendee health in a manner that is appropriately respectful of everyone's privacy.

  • Review communications for content and tone – don't trivialize or escalate attendee concerns, and be sure to collect/respond to feedback.

  • Place links to official news sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on select communications.

e) Provide FAQs, talking points and other information to arm go-to resources with facts and information for your attendees.

f) Redirect more complex questions to your client’s HR team.

If you’d like to learn more about InHouse Physicians and/or how they can help you design and execute a successful Health Security Plan (HSP), contact Patrick Gahagan | 630.634.0010 | Patrick welcomes the opportunity hear from you.

Mary Jo Wiseman, CMP | Author, “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings.”



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