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Chair's Column: What A Year

By John H McEniry IV, Fagron North America, Fairhope, AL

What a year.

During the 2018-2019 Bar Year, the Health Law Section focused on the concept of servant leadership.  Under the remarkable leadership of Alexandria McCombs, we looked within to assess what motivated us to be leaders in our profession, in our communities, and in the Section.  We left that year with a renewed sense of focus and excitement about serving the Section and, by extension, serving others through the work of the Section.  The Section had great momentum as we rode that wave of excitement into the 2019-2020 Bar Year.

Building on Alexandria’s concept of introspection, I chose to focus on the Section’s health and continued growth through the theme of innovation for the 2019-2020 Bar Year.  The Section’s officers and I asked our leaders, many of whom were new to Section leadership, to evaluate the committees and groups in which they were active, determine where we were too comfortable and complacent – particularly in the areas of communication, collaboration, and content delivery – and put forward ideas and plans of action to innovate in those areas.

Our leaders took that charge and immediately delivered.  We saw innovations in communication and content delivery through the Section’s new partnership with ModioLegal and its intuitive app.  Our Web and Technology Committee crafted a plan to develop a larger Section app to further enhance delivery of content to and communication between members.  We saw innovations within specific Interest Groups and committees that enhanced collaboration between those groups and their members.  Our restructured and refocused Distance Learning & National Institutes Committee began to develop a slate of practice area-specific National Institutes which would substantially expand Section offerings of practical, efficient and cost-effective live programming.  Our Washington Health Law Summit Conference offered numerous innovations from prior conferences, particularly as it dealt with conference offerings and content delivery.  Our Emerging Issues in Health Law Conference Planning Committee planned an innovative conference which included advancements in substantive content, panel structure, and attendee collaboration, as well as a focus on community service that will likely be a cornerstone of future Emerging Issues Conferences.  As we ended 2019, the Section was undergoing a renewal in many areas that would enhance its value proposition to members and assure future growth and sustainability.

Then COVID-19 happened.  And the world stopped.

But, we couldn’t stop!  Instead, we had to do more, as legal support of the delivery of healthcare – be it the safe and effective operation of facilities in the face of mandatory closures, management and protection of staff under unprecedented circumstances, remote access to healthcare, support surrounding challenges to our supply chain, development of drugs and devices to address a novel virus, management of mental health and substance abuse issues arising from the pandemic, and addressing racial and socioeconomic factors limiting proportionate access to care – was even more important in the face of this new threat to society.  Despite the tremendous disruption in the personal and professional lives of the Section’s servant leaders, the Section immediately answered the call to support the diverse needs of its members and the public.  The Section immediately hosted virtual events to address threshold questions and issues arising due to the pandemic.  The Section quickly developed a COVID-19 Task Force, which provided and continues to provide timely information and resources to support the efficient and effective delivery of healthcare.  The Section also joined and has supported the larger ABA’s Coronavirus Task Force, which continues to support lawyers and the public through numerous efforts.  Section Interest Groups offered programming and written content on pandemic-related issues specific to each Interest Group’s substantive focus.  And, on very short notice, the Emerging Issues Conference Planning Committee pivoted and put together an outstanding set of conference offerings virtually, many of which were focused on issues surrounding COVID-19.  In all, the Section rose to the challenge of COVID-19 and has provided valuable support to its members and the public during this unprecedented situation.

Of course, COVID-19 was not the only challenge presented to us as individuals and as a Section in 2020.  The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury, and Breonna Taylor effectively awakened the world to longtime systemic racism and injustices.  Thankfully, this time, the world began to listen.  Similarly, Section leaders listened and carefully evaluated how the Section’s history, structure and governance might have unfairly limited advancement and the feeling of belongingness for members of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, and gender identities.  Following that time of listening and self-analysis, the Section Officers and Governing Council proposed and passed a multi-faceted plan which will result in sustainable systemic improvements, guaranteeing a more diverse and inclusive Section for many years to come.  You may read more about the Section’s recent efforts to support diversity and inclusion in my July column.

To our leaders, I am incredibly proud of your dedication, creativity, nimbleness, and perseverance this Bar Year.  You have accomplished so much under incredibly difficult circumstances.  The Section, its members, its members’ clients, and the many people served by its members’ clients all owe you a debt of gratitude.  I look forward to the day when we may celebrate your great work and accomplishments in person.  Thank you.

Of course, our work is not done.  Indeed, we have so much more to accomplish!  I trust that you will continue to support Hal Katz as he takes the reins as Chair of this great Section, as well as the Section’s outstanding Officers, Governing Council, and staff.  The Section certainly is in very capable hands.

As I stated when Alexandria passed the gavel to me in August 2019, and again when I virtually passed the gavel to Hal a few weeks ago, I am flattered that you have given me the opportunity to lead such an incredible organization comprised of such remarkable leaders and members.  The Section has given me so much more than I could ever give it.  I will forever treasure the relationships and friendships that make this Section such a special place.  Thank you.