SVS remains nimble in face of spreading pandemic, pivots to member priorities

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Kim Hodgson

The Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) started 2020 with plans intensifying for the Vascular Research Initiatives Conference (VRIC) in May, the Vascular Annual Meeting (VAM) in June, the launch of the branding initiative, along with a host of other SVS priorities.

Within eight weeks, COVID-19 had prompted a rapid, decisive pivot to SVS members’ changing and urgent needs. Members faced an upended practice landscape, with elective surgeries banned and financial concerns growing. The virus was wreaking havoc not just on personal health, potentially, but also on practices, research labs, the future and more.

SVS president Kim Hodgson, MD, and executive director Kenneth M. Slaw, PhD, moved swiftly to work with leadership to address members’ pressing needs.

“We are working strategically to make sure the financial health and stability of our society remain strong, so we’re in a position to provide as much support to our members and their patients as possible,” said Slaw. Four essential principles are being followed:

Kenneth M. Slaw

Listen and communicate: The important first response involved ears. “We knew that the most important thing was to listen and establish communications with those on the frontlines,” said Hodgson. Slaw began holding daily phone calls with members across the Society and the Executive Board to discuss requests, options and responses. “We opened up all avenues of communications,” added Hodgson. “And it didn’t take long to learn what members were experiencing and what they need—access to resources and access to each other.”

In a few days’ time, SVS increased the frequency of the Pulse electronic newsletter to weekly, reinforcing to members that they should look to that source for information.

Through the leadership and coordination of SVS secretary Amy Reed, MD, more immediate critical items were posted to SVSConnect, the members-only online community, which has seen a big uptick in usage. A members’ resources page on the SVS website provides important information on a host of topics, from telemedicine to financial assistance plus information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the national government and a host of other entities. Reed has also linked communication channels across the SVS in a weekly planning meeting.

Hodgson instituted a series of Town Halls on topics members deemed critical, including frontline clinical experiences and responses, impact on education, training and wellness; financial implications; telemedicine; the vascular lab; and more to come.

The Town Halls offer not only essential information, but polls that highlight member concerns. Finances, for example, quickly surfaced as a major issue, prompting leadership to move that topic up on the schedule. A major additional benefit to the Town Halls has been their live chat feature. This provides important opportunities for members to interact and share information and ideas, offering a hidden opportunity for socialization and connectivity during this time of social distancing.

Legislative staff also has closely tracked news and responses from Washington, D.C., highlighting important information for members, such as the emergency COVID-19 legislation, waivers and the federal financial responses.

Rebalance priorities: At any given time, the Society has a great many initiatives in the works. Leadership has reprioritized a number of them to focus on members’ current needs while deferring other projects for now.

The branding initiative has been a top SVS priority. A launch aimed at referring physicians was planned for the spring with a formal introduction set for VAM in June.

That has changed. “We’ve completely shifted our priorities for this project to developing resources for the member toolkit,” said Slaw. “When the peak has passed, we’ll be ready to put the toolkit in the hands of our members,” helping them brand themselves within their communities.

Nothing has been abandoned but simply re-tooled for the time being, said Hodgson.

VAM has been canceled and members of the Program and Postgraduate Education committees already are planning to present some of the material online. That, too, requires a rapid shift in response. “We’re asking our members to pivot quickly and to transform a large, in-person VAM into other formats to serve members,” said Slaw.

Decision-making in a crisis such as this actually is simplified, because an organization’s mission rises to the surface; projects that do not further the mission’s highest level are set aside, said Slaw. “Our top two priorities are improving the quality of patient care and supporting our members,” he said. “Every decision we make is boiled down to those essentials and wrapped around those priorities.”

Plan ahead and then be nimble: In late 2020, Slaw anticipated that at some point, a situation could require the entire staff to work remotely. He took advantage of the holiday calendar and all staff worked away from the office on two separate days. “When we decided in mid-March we needed to protect the staff by having them work from home, everything went off without a hitch,” he said. “Our staff was already practiced and disciplined. Everyone is functioning well in the virtual world and continuing to meet members’ needs.”

Keep planning for the future: Though SVS is changing priorities to address the here and now, both Hodgson and Slaw are mindful of the future. Noting that members are worried about physician furloughs, Slaw noted: “When the crisis subsides, a crush of patients will come back for delayed procedures. Planning is critical. Organizations need to be conservative and strategic in resource management, but not get into a position where you can’t respond to an opportunity when this crisis is over.”

The same holds true for the Society. “Our focus over the last several weeks has been to position the Society to come out of this in the best possible shape,” said Hodgson. “It’s incredibly important.” Slaw added: “We will come through this and when we do, we want to be in a position to really hit the gas without losing too much momentum and too much time. Dr. Hodgson and the entire Executive Board are doing a phenomenal job leading us,” with important infrastructure in place, he said.

“While maintaining strength in our tradition, this crisis has really demonstrated we’ve built an organization with the flexibility to shift quickly and still maintain quality and excellence,” said Hodgson. “SVS members should be proud.”

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