2020 HSSF Executive Conference

Virtually, the First Online Conference Exclusively for Support Services Leaders

This past October, 116 support services leaders overseeing EVS, food and nutrition, patient transport, laundry and linen, facilities, sustainability, biomedical engineering, and other non-clinical areas of hospitals convened online over two days for ten hours of presentations, discussion, and networking. If not for COVID, they would have made their way to HSSF’s 14th annual conference via trains, planes, and automobiles. But the pandemic forced (or enabled!) them to attend from the comfort of their desks and couches. I missed the camaraderie of an in-person meeting, but found the online version provided a virtual buffet of 35 sessions providing participants with many ideas they could incorporate into their work and recordings to return to long after the conference’s end.

start-stop-continueThis year’s theme was “Start. Stop. Continue.” reflecting the changes managers have had to make to adjust to the pandemic. While not all presenters talked about COVID, many shared how they have shifted their policies, procedures, and approaches to engaging staff in support services departments. There was a consensus that we won’t return to the way things were, but are working on making the new normal better than the old. Click this link to see the conference agenda.

MedStar Health, a 10-hospital system in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, was the conference host. MedStar not only orchestrated the online experience, but professionally produced a variety of sessions showcasing the system’s response to the pandemic as well as exemplary practices in support services departments. Sessions on MedStar’s initiatives in EVS and Laundry and Linen highlighted initiatives to using analytical tools to make significant improvements across the system. The session about use of simulation in EVS training was perhaps a view into a tool that will become commonplace someday. “Women in Support Services Leadership” explored challenges and solutions unique to women in management positions, a first on this topic for HSSF, and overdue. I am grateful for the energy and resources Sean Shapert and his team put into hosting the conference. Undeterred, they embraced the shift from an in-person event to a virtual one.

There were too many valuable presentations to mention here, but I’ll pick a few that stuck with me. One was “Support Services in Hospital Culture”, moderated by Norm Lantz, Senior Director General Services at UCLA Health, and featuring panelists Ken Grant, retired VP General Services and System VP Supply Chain at Johns Hopkins; Tiffany Northern, VP Operations at MedStar Washington Hospital Center; and Steven Ragsdale, Associate Faculty at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The discussion began with the recognition that support services hasn’t always been seen as an equal member of the patient care team, and then explored the opportunities for leaders to confront barriers in order to elevate the profession and provide growth paths for staff. Other memorable presentations addressed how COVID has redirected the future of food and nutrition at Memorial Sloan Kettering and Johns Hopkins; the path from contracted food service to self-op at City of Hope; the journey to carbon neutral at Boston Medical Center; and a comprehensive program to manage support services expenses at New York-Presbyterian. Those presentations and more gave participants lots of ideas to bring back to their shops. 

We made the most of the online platform features to enable participants to connect. One such feature was the Networking Hub, in which participants could see who was attending and connect via video chat or messaging. We held a Speed Networking session to assign participants to groups of five for five minutes in which they could introduce themselves. We also had some breakout sessions. Energy was high for these, despite some technical glitches. Participants also connected with sponsors manning virtual booths in our virtual Exhibit Hall.

Seven sponsors took a chance on our new online format and supported us. Many thanks to Leading Sponsor Virtual Manager; Founding Sponsors IPA (makers of scrubEx, alEx, and vendEx), Surfacide, Xanitos, Zan Compute; and Contributing Sponsors Crothall and Freepoint Eco Systems.

What’s next? First, we’ll return to holding video chats, webinars, and collaborative studies of interest to members. But soon we’ll begin planning our 2021 conference with our host who will be….drum roll, please….UCLA Health! This will be our first conference on the West Coast. I very much hope we’ll be there in-person, but COVID and the pace of the worldwide vaccination effort may determine otherwise. But the 2020 experience has prepared us to bring everyone together again virtually, in-person, or a hybrid version of the two. Check back in the early spring for details.

Jeff Wickham
Managing Director, Hospital Support Services Forum
[email protected]