President's Column: AJHA to have virtual conference

16 Mar 2021 11:19 AM | Erika Pribanic-Smith (Administrator)

By Donna Lampkin Stephens, AJHA President

The decision none of us wanted to make has been made, and now — for a second straight year — we are left with making the best of it.

Despite promising news on the vaccine front, AJHA officers and conference personnel made the call in early March to again forego an in-person October conference after survey results of the membership indicated most of us still don’t feel comfortable committing to an in-person experience yet.

It was the right decision again, even though no one is happy with the outcome. It is simply too much of a risk, health-wise, as variants of the virus continue to evolve. And for many of us, finances would have been an issue as travel funding at so many institutions has been all but axed in the COVID-19 era.

Although by the advent of 2021, I think we all suspected we might be here (even if we didn’t utter the words aloud), we didn’t make the decision based on our guts. Instead, we took a data-driven approach that confirmed what we’d thought.

Of 314 surveys sent to AJHA members, we received 157 responses; 139 of those were completed for an 88.54 completion rate. Of those, only 15.89 percent (24) were very likely to attend a regular in-person conference; 17.22 percent (26) were somewhat likely. Thirty-five (23.18 percent) were unsure.

Twenty-four respondents (15.89 percent) were somewhat unlikely, with a whopping 42 (27.81 percent) very unlikely.

So 66 of the 151 respondents to that question were somewhat or very unlikely to attend an in-person conference. 

On the other hand, 95 (68.84 percent) of 138 respondents reported they were very likely to attend an online only conference. Twenty-four others (17.39 percent) said they were somewhat likely. Twelve were unsure; only four (2.9 percent) were somewhat unlikely, with just three (2.17 percent) very unlikely.

While it wasn’t what we wanted, those numbers made our call easy to make.

Our virtual conference in 2020 gained good reviews, and between a year of experience and a few more months to prepare, we feel confident we can have an even better online experience in 2021.

Demographically, a great majority of the survey respondents (109) are active faculty members; 14 others are retired, and 11 are students. 

Perhaps more than most organizations, our membership and participation skew older; once we get involved with AJHA, we tend to stay involved for many years. Forty-one of the respondents have attended more than 10 conferences; 17 have attended more than 20. 

Many of us remember spending time during previous conferences visiting with some of the founders of our organization, picking their brains about research projects and tenure applications. With covid appearing to more severely affect older people, how could we take a chance of endangering anyone’s health, even in what we hope will be the waning days of a pandemic? It just wasn’t worth the risk.

Another reason this was an easy call was the work of our Convention Sites Chair Caryl Cooper and Loretta Champion Johnson of HelmsBriscoe, who after doing so last year in Memphis, successfully negotiated with our Columbus hotel so that we won’t be penalized financially. The Memphis hotel agreed to move our contract from 2020 to 2022; the Westin Columbus hotel agreed to do the same, from 2021 to 2023. So we will retain our site schedule, just with a two-year pause.

One factor did make it easier for the Columbus hotel to be so amenable — thank God for that Ohio State home football game in October 2021.

The virtual conference will be Oct. 8-9, 2021. Submission deadline is June 15.

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