Some time ago, my AAHPM teammate (and social media maven) Jennifer Bose asked me if I’d write a blog post on my experience at the Assembly today. I’d be lying if said I was anything less than brimming with excitement about the prospect. You see, this is my second Assembly as a member of the AAHPM staff, and my first came just about a week after I was officially hired last year. Because I was brand new, I was able to experience Denver as an attendee might. I was given cart blanche and attended whatever session or meeting I desired. I saw everything. I met everyone. It was staggering and remarkably educational.

It was also decidedly different than my experience this year.

This year, I have been static, essentially posting up permanently at the Resource Center Advocacy Kiosk (you should check it out!). And, if I’m going to be honest, I have to say that I was a little worried about how my perception of this year’s Assembly might stack up after the exhilaration of last year’s. And if I’m going to be even more honest, I was really, really worried about identifying something interesting to put in a blog post. On its face, my activity at the Assembly thus far has really just amounted to sitting on a stool, behind a desk.

Fortunately, I was reminded today why the phrase “on its face” exists. It is a nod to the simple, yet essential truth that life must be lived to be understood, a warning against prejudgment. I was shown again that this Academy and the members who volunteer their time are, fundamentally, deeply dedicated to the field. I was shown again that I am lucky to work for such a special group of people, that hospice and palliative medicine practitioners are not like other providers.

Where policy and advocacy conversations at other specialties’ annual meetings may focus on increasing reimbursement or protecting turf, HPM practitioners seem to have one, core consideration in the issues they hold dear – the quality of care and life for patients and families facing serious illness. Almost every conversation I had with Assembly attendees today focused on what can be done to increase access to hospice and palliative medicine, to assess and improve the quality of care, to express to health policymakers and health system administrators how hospice and palliative medicine is systemically beneficial, and to increase the HPM workforce. Unsurprisingly, the focus was always outward, always on the needs of others.

I feel sometimes that a part of my job is to fret. The scope of policy activity at the state and federal level is daunting, and the list of areas in which I feel a responsibility to help AAHPM members make an impact seems to grow exponentially. Maybe this is a natural feeling in the information age, with its unsettling ability to turn unknown unknowns into (the far more frightening) known unknowns, but it’s unpleasant nonetheless.

Fortunately, though, I have an antidote – action. I always feel better when we are advancing the ball on an issue. I love listening in on a Public Policy Committee call or helping a member draft a letter or developing a project outline. I love it. It is the only way to turn those known unknowns into known knowns, and working with known knowns is really the only way to get your hands around an undertaking as vast as the one facing hospice and palliative medicine.

And that’s what I saw today – I saw the genesis of that action. I saw people who have been involved in advocacy for years, people who are just beginning and filled with all the zeal you’d expect, and I saw people who are primed and already planning how they are going to step up and advocate for their field. So, even though I was static pretty much all day, I was in the middle of a huge amount of activity. It was a cycle of sorts – Potential energy. Activation. Kinetic energy.

Patrick Hermes
Manager, Health Policy & Advocacy