By Denise Williams | News & Views
Pat Comoss, RN, BS, MAACVPR, remembers the thick three-ring binder, stuffed with documentation, that Tri-State Society for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (TSSCVPR) submitted to AACVPR for consideration back in 2006. It was an application, painstakingly put together, for the national organization’s very first Outstanding Affiliate Society Award. Tri-State, which Comoss helped establish, was thrilled to clinch the inaugural title after dedicating months of work to preparing the application. In the years since, however, it has kept itself out of the running for future recognition, waiting patiently in the wings for the right time to shine.
That self-imposed embargo was purposeful, according to Comoss — a past president of AACVPR and current head of the Tri-State Health Policy & Reimbursement Committee. She underscores the importance of TSSCVPR showing how it has advanced as an organization since being named Outstanding Affiliate almost 20 years ago. “If we’re going to go for the award again,” she recalls telling the Tri-State Board of Directors when the conversation would come up, “it should be because we’re doing something new or different … something better.”
Necessity, the Mother of Invention
TSSCVPR found the motivation and justification it wanted and needed to throw its hat in the ring again under the leadership of Immediate Past President Mark Jordan, MS, CEP, CCRP, and sitting President Pam Lowe, BS, RRT. Jordan was installed in 2021, a year after COVID-19 stopped the world in its tracks — including Tri-State’s Annual Symposium. With tech-savvy Jordan at the helm, however, the group was able to restore that all-important event, migrating it to a virtual format.
He remembers that much of the inspiration to stand and deliver despite the challenges of the moment came during a meeting of the directors and planning committee. As debate volleyed back and forth over whether to move into unfamiliar territory with virtual or to simply cancel and ride out the public health emergency, someone pointed to TSSCVPR’s mission statement: "TSSCVPR is dedicated to support, communicate and provide education to health care professionals and their communities in cardiovascular and pulmonary health in order to enhance primary and secondary prevention of cardiac and pulmonary disease. This can and will be accomplished through continued affiliation and support of AACVPR and other organizations of similar purpose and interests fostering a climate that encourages innovation and quality improvement."
Encouraged, the affiliate dove into the work of keeping the Annual Symposium up and running while navigating the realities of COVID; but it didn’t stop with the flagship event, which finally returned to in-person status this year. In the meantime, TSSCVPR eventually bought its own Zoom platform, which it subsequently used to develop and implement a free education opportunity — Updates for Action — that Jordan expects never would have come to fruition if the Society hadn’t been forced to pivot to virtual programming during COVID. Jordan’s successor, Lowe, credits the virtual capabilities with keeping membership and partners up to date with changes in billing criteria and other important information, like how to best use their data to submit for accreditation. “It wasn’t just changes on a level of CMS or accreditation,” she clarifies, “but also on a level of advancement and performance for our patients.”
Meanwhile, even as the affiliate kept the educational offerings coming, one webinar after another, Lowe was doing her part to keep members in the loop by building up Tri-State’s social media presence.
These pandemic responses — powered, Comoss says, by creativity and teamwork — were alone enough to revive talk about applying for the Outstanding Affiliate honor. But when coupled with other ongoing non-technological impacts, leadership was utterly convinced that TSSCVPR had a shot at winning. After regrettably missing the application window for 2022, the group set its sights on capturing the crown in 2023.
Making Their Case
Although others contributed to the tedious and time-consuming grunt work of completing the application — fortunately, there were no three-ring binders to fill this time — the burden fell primarily on the shoulders of Lowe, Jordan and Comoss. A fourth contributor whose perspective and input was crucial was Jill Fox, RN-BC, BSN, FAACVPR, who chairs TSSCVPR’s Education Committee and is the point person on accreditation. As far as Comoss knows, TSSCVPR is one of just a few, if not the only, of AACVPR’s 35 affiliates that is an accredited continuing education provider by a state nurses association. Fox, she says, has been instrumental in that achievement — which is another item on the affiliate’s list of new, different and/or better processes since last seeking Outstanding Affiliate status.
As TSSCVPR president for 2010-11, Fox’s pet project centered around bringing more education to members. As part of that, she launched a campaign to give nurses — who Comoss estimates make up 80% to 90% of the Society’s members — access to contact hour credits they need to renew their license every two years. The affiliate applied for and was approved as a continuing education provider by the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (PSNA), and those credits also confer to members in Tri-State’s other two jurisdictions: New Jersey and Delaware.
“Initially, we would submit several months ahead to PSNA to provide nursing credits, but we had to submit so far ahead that it was often hard to get all of the speakers’ information,” Fox reports. “But we found that PSNA offers a ‘provider unit’ status, where you submit a detailed application that holds for three years, during which time you can make as many educational offerings as you like.” Because of the broader time frame, which provided ample opportunity to secure all of the necessary information, she says TSSCVPR was able to recruit speakers that otherwise might have slipped through the cracks. “As the years have gone by,” she says, “we’ve added more and more education offerings to that, and it’s just been something that members have found very valuable.”
Moreover, Fox says the accreditation has contributed to a more robust education committee. “We have it set up so that respiratory therapists are able to submit to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), their body that gets them contact hour credits, and we also submit the application to AACVPR so that we can offer credits to our professionals who have the Certified Cardiac Rehabilitation Professional (CCRP) designation,” she elaborates. “We try to be really fair and really well-rounded for our members to offer contact hours across the board.”
Aside from these new and different qualifiers, from technology to accreditation, Lowe mentions the Society’s roster. She worked on the membership side of the organization for multiple years before accepting the president position. “I can tell you our numbers have been slowly climbing but steady all along as far as the number of members we have,” she confirms.
TSSCVPR’s rich history as an affiliate also likely worked in its favor. “We’ve been in operation for 40 years,” Lowe observes, a time frame that makes Tri-State a full two years older than AACVPR and one of the first affiliates to hitch itself to the national organization’s wagon.
Even though it was already a viable regional group before AACVPR officially launched, she recognizes what the national organization has to offer in terms of maintaining the TSSCVPR website as far as tools and resources are concerned. More than anything, perhaps, she cites “the ability to talk to each other and bounce ideas off each other.”
Comoss underscores the symbiotic nature of the long-standing relationship between the regional and national groups, which she says is also reflected in the healthy number of TSSCVPR members who have taken on leadership roles at AACVPR, achieved fellowship status and otherwise engaged at a higher level. Importantly, she observes that many of the original members of TSSCVPR remain connected. “There’s been a kind of historical guidance and input,” she continues, laughingly admitting to her biased perspective as one of those original members. “I think that does have some wisdom that comes with it. That, coupled with the mix of all the new people that we have engaged in the process — Mark and Pam are two examples; they’re both young enough that they bring that perspective, like the tech perspective. They’ve brought in that piece, and there are a few of us still around that bring the historical piece. I think the mix of that is enriching to the organization.”
Just as Sweet Second Time Around
Lowe and the rest of the team were ecstatic to learn that their application was selected for Outstanding Affiliate for 2023. There’s no monetary prize associated with the honor, no tangible benefit; but they view it as validation of the organization’s commitment to the cardiopulmonary community, as dictated in its bylaws.
In fact, Jordan notes that TSSCVPR’s mission statement was displayed during the award presentation, which took place during the Affiliate Luncheon at AACVPR’s 38th Annual Meeting in Milwaukee this September. Presenters “talked about how the work we have been doing directly supports that statement,” he explains. And that — he, Lowe, Fox and Comoss all agree — is what it’s all about.