AHA Mulls Next Steps After Canceling QCOR Conference in Response to Baltimore Riots

Deborah Brauser

April 29, 2015

BALTIMORE, MD – Discussions are under way at the American Heart Association (AHA) aimed at deciding how to "get the science out" from the various presentations that had been slated to be presented at its 2015 Quality of Care and Outcomes Research (QCOR) Scientific Sessions, scheduled to begin today but canceled because of safety concerns in the wake of the Baltimore riots.

AHA president Dr Elliott Antman (Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA) told heartwire from Medscape that options may include future webinars and/or asking that some of the material be presented at other upcoming AHA meetings, including their Scientific Sessions in November in Orlando, FL.

"As you can imagine, there are quite a bit of logistics to take the material that would have been presented in a several-day meeting here and figure out ways to have that material communicated to the scientific community and to the public," said Antman.

"Those things that were scheduled to be published simultaneously as full manuscripts in some of the journals will still be published. Also, some face-to-face meetings between individuals working in similar fields will be handled in part by conference calls."

He added that approximately 350 individuals had registered to attend QCOR, which has never been canceled before. All previously announced embargoes from the event will be lifted at 5 pm eastern today, which is when the abstracts will be published online in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. No final decision has been made yet on how to distribute awards that were to be given out at the meeting.

The AHA is still in discussions on how to handle registration fee refunds. In addition, a Hilton customer-service representative told heartwire that they have been authorized to waive all cancellation penalties, including deposits, for anyone booked to stay at the conference hotel—as long as attendees call and cancel their reservations by the end of today.

In-City Experience

A 10 pm to 5 am curfew went into effect last night for Baltimore, which may have helped stop the reoccurrence of the harrowing events that erupted on Monday—when protests turned violent after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died from a spinal-cord injury while in police custody.

News reports showed multiple incidents of looting and clashes with police. And by the end of the night, more than 200 arrests had been made, 20 police officers had been injured, 144 cars and 19 buildings had been set on fire, a state of emergency was declared, and a call went out to the National Guard.

Antman was in Baltimore for a small, invitation-only AHA "Data Summit" that began on Monday; he later watched the day's and evening's events unfold on his hotel TV screen. Although his location was several blocks away, he reported being able to hear some of the noise and saw flashing lights from some of the emergency vehicles.

From different parts of the city, reports showed various serious issues, "including fires that got a lot of our attention," he said, adding that security at his hotel "was quite visible" in the lobby. In addition, when he left the next morning to walk across the street to his meeting in another hotel, security team members accompanied him.

"This certainly makes an impression on you, and it's clearly not something you'll ever forget."

In a message emailed to QCOR attendees and placed on its website, the AHA noted that it was canceling the event because "your safety and well-being are our highest concerns"[1]. Antman noted that they also hoped doing so would help the city.

"The decision was made because of the media reports that were coming in and because of consultations we had with local authorities, hotel management, and the convention and visitors' bureau. The most important thing was the safety of individuals who would be arriving in Baltimore to attend this conference, as well as of volunteers. So I completely endorsed this decision," said Antman.

"We needed to be cognizant of everyone's safety, but we also need to help the city of Baltimore to deal with the logistics of getting the city back to normal. Having fewer people around and having transportation be a little bit smoother I think helps."

Volunteers clean a CVS pharmacy Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore, in the aftermath of rioting following Monday's funeral for Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. Hundreds of volunteers are cleaning up the wreckage left by rioters in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested. [Source: AP Photo/Matt Rourke]

Help has also come from the public. Numerous reports and photos have shown community members helping with the massive cleanup from Monday[2].

"There have been some very poignant moments shown, and it's where the residents of Baltimore can stand proud and try to recover from a dark moment. [The violence shown] isn't the way they want their city to be seen, and it's not the way we see the city," Antman noted.

Still, some businesses remain closed, the curfew will continue for the rest of the week, and the Baltimore Orioles played to (and won 8-2 in) an empty stadium today—which Major League Baseball has noted may be the first time US fans have been barred from one of its games[3].

"It's still a serious situation. And I think canceling the QCOR meeting was absolutely the right thing to do," said Antman. "We are now committed to delivering the information that would have been presented at QCOR as best we can at other venues."

 

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