EB: Why did SGIM’s Council update our policy on meeting site selection?
LH: Many members have expressed concern about holding our national meeting in a state that has implemented one or more policies that conflict with members’ core values. When members are upset about a state’s policy, they ask us to cancel plans to go to the state and sometimes they threaten to boycott the meeting. The Council must respond to such concerns by being sensitive to the political considerations while also considering the financial ramifications for the Society.
EB: How did the Council weigh the political and financial considerations in updating the site selection policy?
LH: The Council recognizes that members are deeply concerned about an increasing number of policies implemented by states that conflict with their core values, including legislation on reproductive rights, gun violence, access to care, physician autonomy, and health care for people who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ). Although we cannot assume that all members feel the same way about all political issues, many members have asked us to act in response to the recent flurry of restrictive state-level policies. At the same time, we must be sensitive to the fact that about 40% of our members live and work in states affected by these restrictive policies.1 Part of the challenge is that it is hard to predict what will happen in cities and states when decisions must be made at least five years in advance to secure sites that meet our needs.
As stewards of SGIM’s resources, the Council must consider the financial impact of decisions about meeting sites, keeping in mind that the national meeting is the Society’s largest source of revenue. In addition, SGIM has an external funding policy that strictly limits commercial support. To maintain funding for a full range of programs, the SGIM team must manage expenses carefully. To change a contracted meeting site to a new location would impose an exorbitant financial loss based on current contractual standards. Cancelation penalties depend on the lead time but range from $270,000 two years before a meeting to $550,000 less than six months before a meeting. Moving to another facility on short notice would incur substantial additional expenses because we would have limited options and little room for negotiation of a contract. Thus, the financial impact of withdrawing from a meeting site contract would seriously undermine our ability to support all the programs that are important to members.
To reconcile these competing concerns, the Council made a commitment to support local or state advocacy efforts as part of the programming for every meeting. The Annual Meeting Program Committee will develop programming early in the meeting planning cycle, targeting initiatives or organizations that may have a sustained impact through connections established at a local level. In addition, the Council committed to exploring opportunities to collaborate with other medical societies to better leverage our collective impact on state-level policies.
EB: What factors then will be considered when choosing future meeting sites?
KO: In the updated site selection guidance,2 the Council explicitly calls for consideration of several factors, including:
- geographic rotation to facilitate equitable access to meetings
- venue cost
- direct flight access
- available dates and conflicts with competing meetings
- condition of meeting space
- attendee experience in the city, including safety
- prior experience with the venue
- environmental sustainability
- political considerations.
EB: What are the implications for SGIM’s regional meetings?
KO: Our members live and work in regions having a wide variety of social and political perspectives. Thus, political considerations may be weighed differently when selecting sites for regional meetings. Since the timeline for selecting regional meeting sites is usually only 12 months ahead of the meeting date, it may be possible to better predict issues within a state that would be particularly upsetting to members. We hope that regional meetings will be able to incorporate more programming on local or state advocacy issues.
EB: How will the updated policy be implemented?
LH: We plan to establish a new ad hoc workgroup that will work with SGIM staff and a site selection consultant to advise the Council on selecting sites according to the updated policy. The workgroup will include two past Program Committee Chairs (or their designees), the Treasurer, the Chair of the Board of Regional Leaders, and a member at large. The workgroup will present a proposal to SGIM’s Executive Committee and then to the full Council for a vote. The site selection policy and subsequent decisions will be posted on SGIM’s website. We hope that the new policy will help members understand how site selection decisions are made while also stimulating more local and state advocacy.