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Boards and the Benefits of Being Prepared
When things happen that negatively affect a given profession or an industry, stakeholders look to their associations for guidance and leadership. Whether such an event or development can be anticipated or comes unexpectedly, associations hold the power to unite their members.

Here are the stories of two associations that had to deal with hardships in very different industries and under very different sets of circumstances. What their leaders had in common, however, was a preparedness mentality that readied them to successfully act in their members’ best interests when facing challenging times.

Recognizing the Impact of Broader Regulatory Changes

For nearly 60 years, Financial & Insurance Conference Planners (FICP®) has provided access to education, experience and resources for as many as 1,500 financial services and insurance meeting planners and hospitality providers. During that time, the association has a history of proactive leadership. For example, in 2008, recognizing that little information or data existed to support the meetings and hospitality industry, FICP worked with other groups in the arena to form a consortium called Meetings Mean Business to showcase the economic value that meetings and events bring to people, businesses and communities.

In early 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it was considering recommendations that would impact financial advisers and the retirement investment advice they provide to clients. The proposed DOL Fiduciary Rule, as it is known, has been widely debated in the finance, banking, investments and other industries. However, the proposed rule also posed a threat to how top performers qualify for certain kinds of employee incentive programs. The unintended trickle-down effect could affect travel and meetings designed to motivate and reward top-performing employees.

“This aspect of the proposed rule wasn’t making the headlines,” said Steve Bova, FICP executive director. “But once we got a closer look, we knew that incentives changes could potentially affect the way our members conduct business,” he said. FICP is not a lobbying organization, Bova said, but its board has a culture of being prepared for such unexpected developments, and felt an obligation to provide members with education on this issue in the event that the DOL Fiduciary Rule was imposed. (It was.)

“Our meeting-professional members bring strategic value to their companies as part of a broader effort to motivate employees, keep retention rates high and foster employee satisfaction. Our members needed to understand what the impact of these new rules might be,” he said.

First, the association invited subject matter experts to explain the potential changes so that members could report to their employers and plan accordingly. The organization developed informative webinars to provide periodic updates on the regulatory changes. In the past year, FICP also engaged the Meetings Mean Business consortium to share supportive research findings with the Department of Labor.

In addition, FICP looked at other organizations whose members might be impacted, which resulted in FICP joining forces with Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) to work together on this particular issue. “We wanted to show the power of collaboration,” Bova said. “It was meaningful for two important industry organizations to come together at a time when the industry could benefit from a unified voice.”

When the final DOL Fiduciary Rule was announced on April 6, 2016, FICP and SITE issued a statement to their respective members and related trade publications, and also held a joint webinar to outline the final language and field member questions. “We will continue to monitor industry reaction, any changes that are implemented before the ruling officially takes effect, and the peripheral fall-out that impacts our members and how they perform their jobs,” Bova said.

Leading Through the Unexpected

“In such a specialized area of nursing, infection prevention and control has always been a primary focus of our organization,” said Lisa Fonkalsrud, immediate past president of the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates, Inc. (SGNA), a professional organization of nurses and associates dedicated to the safe and effective practice of gastroenterology (GI) and endoscopy nursing.

A series of outbreaks of a particularly virulent infection throughout 2013 and 2014 resulted in patient fatalities in hospitals in several parts of the country. In early 2015, when certain consistencies among these patients’ cases began to emerge, the issue became the focus of national news media. The patients all suffered from an antibiotic-resistant infection known as CRE (or carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae) that was suspected to be transmitted by duodenoscopes used during specialized endoscopic procedures, typically in cases of cancer or other very serious gastrointestinal illness.

“As GI nurses who assist in these procedures and oversee the high-level disinfection processes for scopes, SGNA members were greatly impacted by this crisis,” Fonkalsrud said. When the initial news stories began to break, the SGNA board convened and dedicated an entire day to outlining an action plan.

“In terms of planning and preparation, we didn’t have to build a plan from the ground up,” Fonkalsrud said. SGNA had protocols in place for situations involving infection outbreaks, and has had occasion to follow them in the past. Because patients were at risk until solutions could be identified, the SGNA board agreed to take every measure to provide guidance to members in a timely manner and, “to the greatest extent possible, offer leadership during this period of crisis and uncertainty,” she said.

SGNA immediately sent members a video from its president that framed the issue based on what was known at the time. It also launched an online messaging board to post incoming Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alerts as they became available. The association identified medical experts who could discuss CRE and held webinars that could be viewed by SGNA members and the industry-at-large.

By March, as more information on the causes and source of the infection became available, SGNA released white papers on culturing for CRE and other antibiotic-resistant bugs, as well as scope sterilization (also known as reprocessing).

In addition, the association also began to communicate more with oversight agencies and, in May 2015, three SGNA experts presented at an FDA advisory panel. “Our profession is highly specialized — reprocessing scopes requires extensive technical training and knowledge of more than 150 pages of process steps,” Fonkalsrud said. “It was critical to help the FDA and other parties understand the level of specialization required to handle the scopes and accessories, the steps involved in the high-level disinfection and automated cleaning procedures, and the accountability practices that involve both qualified GI nurses as well as technicians.”

Since then, SGNA has developed two new sets of Infection Control guidelines related to scope reprocessing and infection prevention in the GI setting. Those guidelines were approved by the SGNA board in December and began to be shared through member education programs in January 2016. Due to its expertise in the field, SGNA also developed a program called “Train the Trainer,” which offers training programs for gastroenterology nurses who can then instruct other practitioners in the clinical setting on such specialized techniques, as well as general infection control and prevention.

While some brands of scopes have been recalled, the FDA and other authorities continue to investigate the issue with findings expected in 2016.

“You are never 100 percent prepared for a situation in which patient lives are at stake,” Fonkalsrud said. “But because the board had a mindset of preparing for the unexpected, we were able to act quickly in this situation and stay focused on what our members needed from us,” she said.
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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