Presidential interviews with HFM's Bruce Thomas and ASHFSA's Deanne Carlisle on the two organizations' plan to merge.
Two of foodservice's major associations announced in April that they have agreed to consolidate into a single organization. It is one leaders of both groups say will bring a unified, national voice and a stronger package of benefits to self-operated healthcare foodservice directors across the country.
The Boards of Directors of ASHFSA, the American Society of Healthcare Food Service Administrators, and HFM, the National Society of Healthcare Foodservice Management,* voted unanimously on April 6 to make the move. The new association will be known as AHF (the Association for Healthcare Foodservice).
To better report on this historic merger, FM jointly interviewed the presidents of both associations just before press time.
Both groups have strong traditions and cultural histories. Why have they decided that a merger makes sense now?
Thomas: “Neither group is looking at this as a merger per se, but as a consolidation, a coming together. We are creating a new organization, and each association is putting significant assets into that creation. The leaderships of both groups have been talking about the potential of this since 2004. At that time, HFM was in the process of transitioning to a new association management company, and the timing wasn't right to pursue it. But we kept talking. And both groups began to work together on educational initiatives and other projects, something they had never done in the past.”
Carlisle: “On the ASHFSA side it was much the same. As we explored the idea internally we became convinced that coming together would offer real synergies that would be in the best interest of our operator members and our business partners. We could see the evidence of this when we worked on joint projects together.
“One stumbling block we had to overcome was that ASHFSA had always allowed contract management employees to become members. Part of this tradition had to do with ASHFSA's historic affiliation with AHA [the American Hospital Association], but that affiliation officially ended in 2008. In fact, there are only a small number of national members in that category, which conflicted with HFM's membership structure.
“After a lot of discussion, the ASHFSA board determined that this one main issue should not stand in the way of the greater benefits a combined organization would bring the overall membership.”
When will this consolidation be effective, or completed?
Carlisle: “ASHFSA members, who needed to vote on this decision under our Illinois state bylaws, approved the move with a vote on April 28. We will be filing our new papers for incorporation in May.
Thomas: “HFM members also had a chance to comment. Our New York state bylaws did not require a vote of the membership, but our board wanted the membership to affirm the decision, and a board affirmation was made on the same day as the ASHFSA vote.
“Both organizations will be in a transition period for the next several months, while legal and financial work is completed to transfer the assets from both organizations into the new one.”
What happens to members of ASHFSA on the contract side?
Carlisle: “Under AHF membership rules, employees of contract management companies will no longer be eligible for membership in the national organization. All other membership categories defined under either existing group will transfer to AHF.”
Thomas: “We want people to look at this in the context of the vision and mission statements we have for the new association. Our vision is an association that works to see self-operated healthcare foodservice recognized as industry best practice. And our mission is in advancing healthcare foodservice professionals by assuring that food and nutrition is broadly accepted as a core competency in the healthcare community.”
Carlisle: “One of our short term goals is to migrate all the local chapters to the new national organization so they operate under the same name and mission as AHF. Because the chapters are separate entities, national affiliation will be a chapter decision.
“To retain full national chapter status, each chapter will have to adopt the same membership eligibility criteria as AHF. Where this presents an issue for existing chapters there may be other affiliation options that will be explored. It is something we will have to work out over time.”
What specific benefits do you see coming from consolidation?
Carlisle: “We are evaluating the initiatives and approaches that work effectively for each separate society and plan to adopt those best practices for AHF.
Thomas: “ASHFSA's strong local chapter structure is a great example. HFM does not having anything that compares with it. The HFM membership will be able to join nearby colleagues for some great networking events.”
Carlisle: “In the same way, HFM has a strong benchmarking program and ASHFSA members will be able to take advantage of that. Plus, broader participation in the program will make it more effective.”
Thomas: “In our conversations, we've use the term ‘best of breed’ quite a bit. When there are overlaps, our goal is to sort out the best practices and adopt them.
“There are some obvious benefits from eliminating the competition that used to exist. Before, both groups competed for members, conference participation, sponsor resources and in other areas. As one organization, we'll be focused on moving forward rather than competing. We will be recognized as a stronger voice in the industry.”
Carlisle: “Another very real benefit will accrue to our industry member-partners. They are actively involved not only in healthcare but in other foodservice segments and are already spreading their support among different organizations. We believe a single healthcare foodservice association will make it easier for them to support us and focus the resources they have to share with our segment.”
How large will the AHF be? How will its board be structured?
Thomas: “We won't really know the size of the membership until after we go through a membership renewal cycle, but our reviews of the current memberships suggest that AHF will be a significantly larger organization than either of the two groups was before.
Carlisle: “The AHF governing board with include 10 operator members and three business partner members. They will all be voting members. AHF will also have an Industry Advisory Board of approximately 20 business partners with the chair and vice chair serving on the governing board. We'll have our first AHF elections next January.
Both organizations already have president-elects. Who will lead AHF in the coming year?
Thomas: “Legal counsel has advised us on this — the leadership will be made up of equal representation from both associations. Because HFM's president-elect Kris Schroeder had been a member of the transition task force, we decided it might go more smoothly if she were the 2009-2010 president. Denisa Cate, ASHFSA's current president-elect, will be AHF president in 2010-2011.
Both groups employ different association management companies. Have you decided to drop one of them?
Carlisle: “This is going to be the hardest decision we make. Both groups are very pleased with the support they have received from their association management groups. Keith Howard [ASHFSA's executive director] and Holly Koenig [HFM's executive director] have been nothing but professional throughout this process. They've worked together to help both organizations navigate the decisions involved. But in the end, we can only financially support one management company.”
Thomas: “We have an RFP out right now that has gone to both of them that defines the scope of services AHF will require and the responses are due back to the new board by the end of May. A decision will be made by the end of June. As hard as it will be, we have to put emotions aside and look at the decision in a business context.
“It is also not just a financial bid — the board has established over a dozen different criteria using a grid analysis. All we can say is that it is difficult for all of us and we really admire the professional way both of these groups have handled it as we have proceeded.”
What will happen to the 2009 annual conferences?
Carlisle: “ASHFSA's conference will be in Clearwater, FL, on May 31-June 3. HFM's Conference will be held August 24-28 in Palm Springs. We hope everyone who can attend these conferences will do so.
“ASHFSA's national and chapter leadership will be meeting at its Sunday luncheon to discuss the impact all of this may have at that level, as well as to solicit the local chapters' feedback on what will serve them best in this new organization.”
Thomas: “AHF will hold its first conference in June of 2010 in Austin. A new Conference Planning Committee has already been formed to review the practices both associations used to plan these in the past. We want to determine a 2010 program agenda as soon as possible.”
What is the time frame for all of this to happen?
Carlisle: “The new organization's fiscal year will begin on August 1. Both organizations have agreed upon a number of short term goals to get us through the transition and the last board meetings of the individual organizations will take place at their annual conferences.”
Thomas: “There are actually some very tight deadlines associated with that because of clauses in some of both organizations' existing contracts. We have to pick our new association management company by June because both have 90-day cancellation clauses in their current arrangements. We need to have a single company in place by October.
“Next year we will go through a strategic planning process to set the longer term strategy and goals for the future. Then, we will all focus on where we want to take the new organization and how to get there.”
*ASHFSA was founded as a national group in 1967 under the auspices of the American Hospital Association by regional associations of hospital foodservice directors in New York and New Jersey. HFM was formed in 1989 by a national group of foodservice directors who wanted to focus on raising the professionalism of self-operated healthcare foodservices.