Attending the UOA Annual Conference is always exciting, given the chance to meet other ostomates from around the country and around the world, including friends from previous conferences and brand-new ostomates attending their first conference. In fact, more than 600 people attended this year's UOA conference, including more than 200 first-timers. (Perhaps my only regret in this regard was that I couldn't see any of my Canadian ostomy friends because UOA Canada was meeting simultaneously in Montreal while UOA Inc. was meeting in St. Louis.)
Considering that I am now the UOA webmaster (having just been appointed webmaster two months before the Conference, after previously serving as Internet Committee chairman), and I was busy running both the Internet Session and Internet Exhibit Booth at this conference, and I was also a Chapter Delegate, most of the sessions I managed to attend were devoted to "business" of the organization. I wasn't able to attend any of the medical sessions such as "Ask the ET" and "Ask the Doctor," although I understand that those sessions were very successful.
The House of Delegates passed a major bylaws change which will modernize the organization by giving our elected Officers and Directors more authority to make decisions (As one example, this will eliminate the acrimonious debate which has occurred at conferences every time UOA has had to increase dues). Two different versions of the new bylaws ("member vote" and "chapter vote") had been prepared by the Board and presented to the House; of these, we passed the "chapter vote" version, in which chapters will meet to decide their votes, which will then be cast (by mail) by the chapter President. (In the alternative "member vote" version, ballots would be distributed via the OQ to all members, who would then mail their votes directly to the national office, thus bypassing the chapters.)
Both versions of the new bylaws would give the Board more authority and would, in fact, do away with the House of Delegates. Since a version of the new bylaws ("chapter vote" version) did pass, there won't be a House of Delegates at next year's conference. Nevertheless, UOA will continue to conduct annual conferences. Chapters won't send "delegates" to the conference but will send "representatives" instead. At the conferences, all members will still have opportunities to voice their opinions on issues involving the organization in open forums that feature two-way dialog between members and the Board (a kind of dialog which has been sorely missing from the House of Delegates with its rigid, parliamentary structure). However, there will no longer be formal elections at the annual conference. The formal elections that do take place will be conducted by mail using the "chapter vote" model and will be limited to choice of Officers, Directors, and bylaws changes.
A number of new programs were announced or fleshed out at this year's conference. One very important program is the 20/40 Network [later renamed Young Adult Network], intended to address needs and concerns of people in the approximate age range of 20-40 who have undergone ostomy or continent procedure surgery. People in this age range often feel out of place at UOA chapter meetings, where most members tend to be much older than themselves (In fact, the average age of UOA members is currently 73). It is interesting to realize that when UOA was founded nearly 40 years ago, many of its original members were in the 20-40 age range. Unfortunately, this group has been aging together, and we haven't been very successful in replenishing our ranks with younger people, resulting in our current top-heavy age distribution. If UOA is to survive, future leaders will have to be drawn from those ostomates who are now in the 20-40 range, and success of the 20/40 initiative will be crucial.
An announcement that I consider very welcome is a plan to expand the distribution of information cards in packages of ostomy supplies. This program began last year but, originally, the cards were limited to national information (thus, they could encourage Association membership but not chapter membership), and they were provided only to major national mail-order distributors. Now, the program is being extended to the chapter level. Thus, UOA will provide cards on which chapters can add their local information, and then distribute them to local suppliers. I urge our chapter to obtain a good supply of these cards as soon as they are available, and then provide them on a monthly basis to all ostomy supply distributors in our area.
This year's conference included a very successful exhibit hall, with
many more exhibitors than in previous recent years. In fact, so many
companies were exhibiting that the internal UOA groups who wanted exhibit
booths (including my own committee's Internet booth) were relegated to the
hallway outside of the main exhibit hall. Much of this success was
probably due to Gene Galindo of
Nu-Hope, who has been heading UOA's
Industrial Advisory Committee. Gene has worked in the ostomy supply
business for more than 40 years (ever since his father had a urostomy due
to bladder cancer in the 1950s), and has watched UOA's entire history. He
feels that, recently, UOA has been losing potential members largely
because we're no longer getting our message to the ET nurses who, as a
result, aren't referring patients to us any more. Therefore, Gene has
concentrated on restoring communication with the ET nurse's society
(WOCN). For this UOA Conference, he was
able to line up many more ETs to participate in our Stoma Clinic and Ask
the ET sessions. As a secondary benefit, he could line up more companies
for the exhibit hall by assuring them that more ETs would be present! I
ran with Gene for
Regarding my own area of interest as UOA webmaster, I attended some Board meetings and a Communications Dept meeting prior to formal opening of the conference. At the Communications meeting, we made the decision to establish a message board (discussion board) on the UOA website. This will surely increase popularity of our website. Establishing such a board was championed strongly by members of the 20/40 Network, who are likely to be major users once it is running (Hopefully, I'll have the message board running in a few months). Use of the Internet will become more and more important to UOA as time goes on. As one example, given UOA's new governance structure, the website will become a major vehicle by which information about candidates running for office is communicated to the membership.
The Thursday afternoon Internet Session, conducted jointly by Bill Capman of the Worcester MA chapter and myself, was quite successful, as we filled the theater alotted to us. It was unfortunate, however, that this session coincided with the 20/40 Rap session, which meant that some of the people most interested in using the Internet weren't able to attend the Internet session.
As a final note, I was one of three lucky winners of a "door prize" which includes free family registration to next year's conference in St. Paul, MN. However, as webmaster, I'll probably get free registration anyway (I did get free registration this year), so I'll want to transfer my prize to another member of our chapter. This ought to increase the incentive for some other member of this chapter, in addition to myself, to attend next year's conference!