COVID-19 has made an impact on every aspect of the Coalition, including our 5th annual summit, which was held virtually for the first time on June 22. More than 225 participants tuned in via Zoom for the event. Videos from the summit, including a recording of the entire event, can be found below.

Executive Director Anna Gosline led Coalition leaders Dr. Atul Gawande, Andrew Dreyfus, Maureen Bisognano and Kate DeBartolo in a wide-ranging conversation about important issues raised over the past six turbulent months. It included the discussion of racism as a public health crisis, not least displayed in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. “We’ve been in denial about the structural effects of racism, are moving to contemplation, and are beginning to grapple with action,” said Dr. Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, Co-Chair of the Coalition. The leaders acknowledged the need to use data to develop new strategies to listen, learn and to address structural inequities. “For us at The Conversation Project we've really been focused on how privileged it is to champion a good death when for many, the goal of a good life is constantly in question,” added Kate DeBartolo, Director.

Another major topic was changes that have come from COVID-19. The pandemic has inspired some people to have advance care planning conversations earlier. “COVID makes it more concrete, more palatable and allows people to have those conversations,” noted Dr. Gawande. It also led to the implementation of telehealth faster than anyone expected. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts President and CEO Andrew Dreyfus, in February they paid about 200 telehealth claims per day, by April it was 40,000. Continuing sources of frustration during the crisis include the isolation of seriously ill patients from those that matter most to them and the challenge of getting devices to help vulnerable populations get connected.

Anna Gosline then explained how this year the Coalition and its working groups collaborated with other organizations to take its research-based messaging in a new direction to inspire productive COVID-19 conversations. Plans for the Coalition include public opinion research to better understand changes in ACP engagement and perceptions resulting from the pandemic as well as how the pandemic has impacted clinician experience of serious illness communication and palliative care. “We don't want to go back,” Gosline said. “And we need to know more to keep pushing ahead.” Feedback gained from breakout group discussions held during the summit will also shape the direction of the Coalition’s work over the next year.

Some of the most emotional moments of the virtual summit came from four videos where members of the working groups shared their darkest moments, greatest signs of change, what gives them hope, and why they are proud to be part of the Coalition.