Thursday, May 14, 2020

Nothing is Over Until We Decide it is!

Picture yourself as a composer. You spend the better part of a year working out the machinations and tribulations of orchestrating a complex and intricate symphony. There are so many moving parts and competing needs. There are many musicians and a variety of delicate balances, nuance, that must all come together in the final product. One can imagine there is satisfaction in looking back on such a product with pride and contentment.

I believe that is how Steve Rissman and Jim McConnaughhay feel every September when they reflect on the success of yet another Workers' Compensation Institute ("WCI") Workers' Compensation Education Conference ("WCEC"). For 75 years, there has been a WCEC. The dynamic duo has produced this program for over three decades, through various venues, as it has grown literally from a quartet to the national workers' compensation symphony. This national conference has become the largest, most diverse, and most pervasive educational effort in workers' compensation. 

On May 13, 2020 the WCI announced it will postpone the WCEC until August 2021. This cannot have been an easy decision. I make my living addressing difficult decisions that are often life-altering for someone; hard decisions. I consider myself blessed to not have had to make this particular hard decision. Having built WCEC 2020 in anticipation of the entire community coming, this has to be a let-down for these two. Let's face it, it is a let down for a whole raft of people whose efforts in individual programs or segments are equally daunting, and their performance is equally stellar; year after year after year. It is unfathomable, but WCI is a non-profit that produces this incredible program with volunteers; year after year, decade after decade, one breakout at a time. Incredible.

There is significant work required of the Board of Advisors each year. But, there is even more work invested by the Committee Members and the dozens of subject-matter experts that are like the section leaders in an orchestra. They get their group aligned, practiced, and prepared. The conductor and producer have to coordinate the entire production, but the section leaders are critical. Much of the annual success of the WCEC is due to these section leaders. This includes organizations like the National Association of Workers' Compensation Judiciary, the Southern Association of Workers' Compensation Administrators, The Centers for Disease Control, and The University of South Florida.

I ran into a fellow at the WCI WCEC a few years back. "What are you doing here, I thought you retired?" I asked. "Well," he replied, "its August and in August you come to Orlando for WCEC, it is just that simple." It really has become that simple. This national forum is where you hear about the cutting edge in American workers' compensation. The curriculum and conversation are telling, prescient, and comprehensive.  

It’s not just the organizers. Certainly I feel empathy for their composing, editing, and more. I appreciate and respect the many section leaders and their labors. But it’s also the musicians. I suspect something around 500 of the best and brightest of American workers compensation had practiced their individual assignments, and devoted countless hours to preparation for this orchestral debut. Their efforts are not in vain. This is, after all, a delay not a denial. However as one of those musicians who has taken the stage over 1000 times in my career, I know the preparation, the focus, and frankly I commiserate with their obvious disappointment. There have been so many disappointments from COVID-19.

But, as brother Bluto so eloquently reminded us so many years ago: 
"Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?  (insert his brothers here, questioning the "German" reference). . . NO!! And it ain't over now. When the going gets tough (pause for effect) the tough get going! Who is with me, come on, let's GO!"
That perhaps is the real call of the entire COVID-19 crisis. The going is undoubtedly tough, but so many have kept going! I see you out there on social media. And, I have spent hours discussing individual's personal challenges over the last 60 days. They have ranged from the serious (contracted this disease, cared for a family member with it, had a family member with it hospitalized), to their fears, to the impact on their work, business, family, and emotions. If you have escaped COVID-19 without direct impact, and escaped without even knowing someone directly impacted, you are truly blessed. If you have that measure of luck and fortune, that is simply unfathomable to me (you should get a lottery ticket this week while the getting is good).

Over the last (too many years to count) I have made an annual trek to Orlando each August. Trip duration has differed, sometimes five days sometimes only one. I’ve done my best to both partake of the educational opportunities of the Workers' Compensation Institute, and to steadfastly contribute where I have been able. I’m certain there are a fair few of those 500 speakers for 2020 whom I do not know. But, over the course of decades, I have met and interacted with literally thousands of fantastic presenters, orators, logicians, physicians, adjusters, managers, injured workers, and more. They are virtuosos, maestros, and artists. I will eagerly anticipate their postponed performances.

I can tell you this, without reservation, the quality of speakers that we attract to this conference is stellar. In that regard, I am proud to note that the quality of speakers we attract to a variety of conferences around this country are likewise stellar. Without exhibiting too much hubris, let me emphasize that a great many of these are from right here in the state of Florida. I am proud of our many presenters that are judges, OJCC mediators, local attorneys, doctors, risk managers, and more. I have been so blessed to have been associated with such outstanding and distinctive scholars, thinkers, doers, and presenters. 

But the critical point remains: IT'S NOT OVER! Delayed? Granted. Disappointed? Certainly. Committed to returning to the critical effort of providing exemplary education, and intellect? Absolutely! It is not over, it is merely delayed like so much in our lives recently. And, perhaps as Francis Davison's or Thomas Haynes Bayly started so long ago "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder." Perhaps the gathering, socializing, camaraderie, collegiality, and education will simply be all the better in 2021 after we have had 2020 to lament its postponement, to miss it all, to yearn for it?

We will be back in Orlando. It will be excellent to find ourselves at WCI WCEC 2021. We can debate whether that will be the 75th (as this year was supposed to be), or is it 76th because an element or two will yet proceed this August as scheduled? Did I forget to mention that an extensive program was planned this year in cybersecurity? That is a hot topic, likely to impact everyone that has a computer and does business. Our dependence on computers, networks, and remote work have only been highlighted by COVID-19. We really do depend on technology in amazing ways and extents. There are cybersecurity requirements coming from the government. Those who do business with the government will be forced to produce certification of computer and network security.

(Sigh of relief? that's not you?). Well, think again. The government is going to require those who do business with those who do business with the government to also be certified in cybersecurity. This is a big deal! it will affect law offices, physicians, hospitals, case managers, carriers, employers, and more. The implications are mammoth, and they touch everyone in the workers' compensation community. It will touch anyone that has (1) data and (2) a computer. The time to get ready is now. It is so critical, that the 2020 WCI cybersecurity program remains un-postponed. This is a show that must go on. More details will come soon

Get over the postponement. Push down that disappointment and persevere. We all must. We will all get through 2020, and find ways to supplement our education, communication, and interaction in this short term. WCI will be there for that too, but more on that later.

And then, in 2021, we will descend on Orlando once again and find our community waiting for us, cheering us, and celebrating us together. For, perhaps a lesser poet, Charles Schultz (Author/Artist of Peanuts) had his own take on absence noting "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.” Yes, we will be lonely at times before then. We must support and engage each other until then. But we will strive to connect and continue. Let's do this together, like a community should. "Who is with me, come on, let's GO!" (running out of the room and hoping you will follow me and share my enthusiasm!).


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