Walt Vernon is CEO of US-based healthcare facilities consulting firm, Mazzetti, and non-profit, Sextant. He is on the Board of the FGI and served on NFPA 99 ELS, NFPA 70 CMP15, and ASHRAE 189.3. He chairs the ASHRAE Infectious Aerosols Position Document Committee and represents the US in the International Federation of Healthcare Engineers. He leads the IFHE Volunteer response to support the WHO Help Desk in response to the COVID-19 crisis.


I began attending, and presenting at, the world congresses of the International Hospital Federation (IHF) several years ago. Last year, I was excited to attend, but of course, the virus shut us all down. I was therefore delighted to be able to join the community in Barcelona this November, as we celebrated the first post-pandemic congress.

My time this week was extremely valuable. The content was helpful, the experience was wonderful, and the opportunity to meet and talk with different people from different countries about what THEY are doing was fascinating.

During the course of the event, I noted some consistent, key themes:


  1. New ways of working
  2. Continued emergence of technology
  3. Commitment to climate action
  4. Overriding need for effective leadership
  5. Commitment to community


New ways of working

The event itself was a dramatic manifestation for how the world has changed, due to the virus, and how the ways we work is likely to continue to evolve. Many people made the long trek to Barcelona (I am writing this while sitting jet-lagged on a plane after leaving Barcelona about 20 hours ago). But many people presented from a remote location. Many people provided pre-recorded sessions. The excellent IHF planning team created a remarkable mix of experiences and presentation styles, taking this potentially challenging situation and weaving disparate elements together in ways that enhanced, rather than diminished the learning experience. It was difficult, of course to try to network with people who were not present, and I regretted not being able to talk with some of the folks. But the way the programme was assembled with the ability to interact and ask questions was really effective.

This newly designed experience is emblematic for the new ways we are all being called on to work in the wake of our shared viral experience. All of us have had to design new ways to work and to provide effective health services to the communities we serve. All of us have been called upon to innovate, and to experiment, and to accelerate better ways to serve.

And it is this spirit of willingness to experiment aggressively that we need to carry with us, back to our homes and our organisations who will continue to benefit from this way of thinking.


Continued emergence of technology

Our ability to come together this past week depended on new ways of using technology that were unthinkable a year or two ago. I remember well the first time I suggested using a speakerphone in a conference room to allow someone remote to join us for a meeting years ago, and how oddly people looked at me for trying. And today, we have blown past the zoom meeting and entered this new reality where we merge in-person and remote people into rich conversations and discussions in ways that rapidly accelerate learning.

Again, this experience so vividly symbolises the seep with which we need to embrace and use the emerging technologies that are increasingly available to us.

Technology is moving much faster than our ability to keep with, much less absorb and optimise it in service to our communities. And yet, it is only through adopting a willingness and a discipline to invest in this work that we will continue to bring the tools to bear on the challenges we face.

So many great people are doing so much to advance these initiatives. We must embrace the uncertainty and expense that comes with this flurry of innovation, and we must develop our own capacity for managing change in complex organisations. Our people need us to do this.


Commitment to climate action

(I will start with a disclosure – I delivered two talks on this topic, so my view of the topic may be a bit slanted!)

At the same time, we were meeting, the world’s leaders were gathered in Glasgow (a considerably wetter and colder experience than ours, I heard) to find ways to tackle the ultimate health crisis, the rapidly deteriorating climate.

I went to a lot of sessions at the Congress that included the word “sustainability”. It was very interesting that this word, used originally to refer to the need for behaviours that would at least not inhibit and, if possible, enhance the ability of future generations to thrive, is sometimes used in other ways – often having to do with the ability to continue to generate sufficient financial returns.

But there was a thread of awareness through the Congress and there was strong attendance at the launch of the newest IHF Special Interest Group on climate and health: Leadership for Sustainability.

Historically, people concerned with public health and people concerned with delivering direct patient care operated in different worlds. Now that we understand the fierce urgency of the need to comprehensively address the climate and health crisis, we understand the outsized impact that WE who deliver healthcare services impose on the world. So, now we increasingly recognise the moral imperative each of us must add carbon to the metrics for quality in the operations we lead.


Overriding need for effective leadership

A few years ago, I was talking with some friends about a need I had to find some innovative hospital CEOs to put onto a Board I was working with. These folks – hospital CEOs themselves – laughed and told me that if I wanted innovation, I needed to go to a group of entrepreneurs (probably tech entrepreneurs), not hospital CEOs.

But that perception is not right.

This past two years has shown all of us the incredible resilience and versatility that so many leaders, so many clinicians bring to their work. We have ramped up and we have ramped down. We have experimented, we have learned, we have become stronger. We have embraced new technologies; we have empowered our people.

And now it is imperative that we carry this momentum with us as we leave for home. The challenges in front of us are no less than the ones we have come through. We face a continued crisis of an evolving virus, and changes to technology and the need to decarbonise. We face challenges for delivering quality, affordable, accessible healthcare, especially to the least among us. We came to this profession because we cared, and because we want to make a difference.

All of that resilience and innovation and effectiveness we found in ourselves was on full display at this World Hospital Congress. If we build on these traits, and if we continue to recognise their value and develop them within ourselves, we will have the wherewithal to rise to the occasion, and to be the leaders our communities, including our global community, need.


Commitment to community

Because it is our community that sustains us.

We were a community during the past week. It was wonderful to see people I had only known as faces on a screen. It was wonderful to meet new people and to think about new potential collaborations. It was wonderful to be able to learn from other brilliant people who were doing amazing things that I could borrow. It was wonderful to be able to share my own experiences in ways that I hope will bring value to all of you.

Being from California, I found that I attended the conference all day, and then I worked late into the night, supporting the community that I spend most of my time serving. That dialogue between communities brings us together and makes us all stronger.

The science of longevity and wellbeing has shown us clearly that one of the most important ways to build health is to build community.


I am already looking forward to seeing you all next year!