April 29th, 2015

Fallout from the Baltimore Protests: QCOR 2015 Canceled

Each year, approximately 400 cardiovascular outcomes researchers gather at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research (QCOR) meeting to discuss and debate some of the most pressing concerns in American medicine today, including healthcare disparities. This remarkable venue showcases outstanding science and affords the entire research community an opportunity to connect again with old friends and new colleagues.

This year promised to be no different. With a slate of amazing abstracts and presentations scheduled for this Wednesday afternoon, the stage was set for an outstanding program that reflected the hard work of devoted individuals. Many of us were particularly excited to return to Baltimore, one of America’s truly great cities, where the QCOR meeting has been held several times.

Two days prior to the beginning of the conference, however, circumstances changed. Protests and riots erupted after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who lost his life last week while in the custody of the Baltimore police. After thoughtful deliberation by AHA staff on the ground in Baltimore, the meeting was canceled.

This was an unfortunate but appropriate decision. And in all honesty, it wasn’t very tough. By Monday evening, downtown hotels were in lockdown, Maryland’s governor had declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard had been called. With the prospect of more protests and ongoing concerns about escalation of the riots, the safety of our attendees played a paramount role in this decision — as it should.

That said, so much hard work goes into each of these meetings by its planners, participants, and attendees. Naturally, I am saddened that this year’s event could not proceed. QCOR’s cancelation is a comparatively small setback within a larger tragedy, but in the wake of the decision, I do want to reflect on a few issues and recognize some important contributors.

For many young researchers, QCOR is a first chance to present their work nationally. I feel saddest about being unable to witness these presenters engage us. The slate of abstracts we were set to review for the Young Investigator Award and Travel Award competitions represented a strong group.

We also had planned to publish two outstanding papers in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, simultaneously with their oral presentations: Tim Fendler’s “Incidence and Predictors of Cognitive Decline in Patients with Left Ventricular Assist Devices” and Masahiko Hara’s “Different Impacts of Time From Collapse to First Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation on Outcomes After Witnessed Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest in Adults.”

We will miss a number of outstanding plenary and concurrent sessions, including a stroke session that actually has further brought patients into the QCOR’s planning and implementation process.

I am also very disappointed that we will not have the chance to reflect on and celebrate the career of John Spertus, a colleague and friend who is receiving the QCOR Lifetime Achievement Award this year. He has dedicated his life to outstanding scholarship and mentorship. He is simply the best.

For those of you who had planned to attend, I’d ask a favor. As you get back a bit of your calendar during the next couple of days, please try to take an afternoon to review some of the wonderful abstracts that were set to be showcased at QCOR — and to recognize that work. We will work hard during the next day or so to try to provide you with a single web link connecting you to all of this wonderful science. We are also working with the AHA and its staff, who have been extraordinarily helpful, to salvage as much of the programming as we can for the fall’s larger Scientific Sessions, including the possibility of celebrating John’s wonderful career in the way he deserves.

Please remember that QCOR will return in 2016, in Phoenix, coupled with the EPI/Lifestyle meeting for the first time. We are excited to have this opportunity to share our event with them, given the many natural synergies between our communities in the area of population health. We hope to exploit these connections to help both research communities grow even stronger.

Lastly, take some time to keep the city of Baltimore in your prayers. Many of us have taken the time to get to know and explore Baltimore during previous years. Last year, Paul Chan wrote a thought-provoking piece in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes about the experiences of a few members of our research community who visited the Bea Gaddy Family Center and the Viva House — two local, private organizations that provide food, shelter, and social and economic support to some of Baltimore’s poorest residents. Since the latest wave of unrest started, I have thought a lot about the issues raised in that piece, including the need for us to refocus our goals and priorities in healthcare disparities research.

Baltimore is a beautiful place that, like all great cities, has its flaws. The recent events are a setback for Baltimore, but even in this dark hour there are amazing stories of leaders calming the unrest. The Charm City will bounce back, and so will we.

Brahmajee Nallamothu, a cardiologist at the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor VA Medical Center, is the chair of this year’s AHA QCOR meeting.


Share your reflections on the recent events in Baltimore and on QCOR’s cancelation.

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