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Due to decreasing revenue, the APA Assembly has been forced to reduce its budget by $200,000 and and many of the APA Components have been eliminated or significantly changed.
During the last Assembly Meeting which I attended in my capacity as Distant Past Speaker, the Assembly had a mandate from the Board of Trustees to cut it’s budget by $200,000. This was due to a loss of advertising revenue and diminished income from the annual meeting. Changes made several years ago left the APA unable to utilize income from APPI publishing and the APA Foundation which are required to function independently of the APA.
After discussion and debate, the Assembly accomplished this task. The Board then rescinded a request of another major cut. The result of the cuts that were made is that there are less representatives to the Assembly and alternative representatives will not have financial support to attend meetings. There are other cuts in staff and activities of the Assembly. Many are concerned about the diminishing of alternate and younger representatives, as the Assembly is often the training grounds for APA leadership. There is also the question of whether these cuts are taking away the voice of under represented minorities as well as that of various sub-specialty groups which have been traditionally represented in the Assembly. These and future cuts are viewed by many as leading a to a less democratic process with increased executive functioning.
The Assembly was not the only part of the APA to be cut. The Fall Components Meeting was essentially eliminated, as were most of the Components. This doesn’t mean that activities in the areas previously covered by the Components were destroyed. In some cases an individual was appointed as representative to a Council charged with the responsibility of an area previously handled by a Component. Some committees may still meet at the annual meeting in reduced size or have conference calls. In other cases, staff were assigned duties previously handled by Components.
It is not clear how these changes will impact the APA. However, I would like to express my concern about two Components upon which I have been very active in the past.
In the past each Area had a representative on what previously was called the Joint Commission on Public Affairs which also had several knowledgeable members who were consultants. This was an active vehicle of communication and exchange which brought back ideas and activities to the various Areas and local DBs, each of which had their own PA Committee. In addition, this APA Component arranged biannual Institutes where there were exhibits, demonstrations of programs and exchange of ideas. For example, I learned about a clergy dinner that the Kentucky DB was holding which I brought to my then DB in Westchester which now has been running such a program for more than 15 years. I participated in an education program about how to approach newspaper editorial boards, which led me to start a local newspaper column that ended up being syndicated for Gannett Newspapers. Training which occurred at these institutes in radio and television provided many others and myself with the confidence to pursue projects in these media. At these meetings we also were introduced to ideas how to establish our Area and DB web sites which were in a nascent stage. I can see reverberations in many public affairs activities of psychiatrists throughout the country, which can be traced to the interaction, and exchanges which came from this Component. I understand from some initial inquires, that most of these activities have not been occurring recently at the APA and certainly not at the level which they occurred in the past.
Most psychiatrists (except those the military) become involved with this aspect of psychiatry because of some incident which occurs in their locale. That was the case with myself and I ultimately found myself on this committee with a group of remarkably experienced and dedicated psychiatrists. There were creative projects which emerged from this group which included, awards and recognition for psychiatrists working in disasters, an emergency funding mechanism for district branches at the time of disaster, development of a manual for use in disasters which was translated into Japanese after a request during the Kobe earthquake, a special place on the APA website for disaster information, the development of disaster workshops for the DBs (in conjunction with the Assembly), the development of courses for the annual meeting which were conceived , discussed and developed at this commitee meeting, as well as many other things. Last time I looked there was no Disaster Component and disaster activities are under the oversight of one (very capable) member and staff.
Realistic financial restrictions can’t be overlooked. A vibrant organization has to constantly reinvent itself. Some people have advocated cutting back the Assembly even further. It has been questioned whether APA members want governance by a representative group. After all less than 25 % of APA members even vote in national elections. Utilizing members to be an active part of the governance is more expensive than just having paid full time staff run the whole show. Even though members donate their time, the fact is that travel and hotel are expensive and the deliberating process takes more time. On the other hand, there are other potential revenue streams and the innovativeness and creativeness of members in the past has been very productive. Some believe rather than limit participation, we should increase it, which could also lead to increased APA membership.
I have a confidence and optimism about the APA. We are fortunate in having a very talented Medical Director and have always been able to attract outstanding staff. However I believe that the APA 10 years from now will be quite different than the APA of 10 years ago. What that difference will look like, will depend on the priorities and values which we hold and what kind of governance we will choose.
The Internet is a great place to exchange idea and discuss these issues.
The enhanced website of Psychiatric Times and particularly this Couch in Crisis series of blogs is also an opportunity for comments and discussion by readers.
I look forward to watching this debate and participating in it.