Update: As of March 17, the hotel has agreed to let Southern Sleep Society to postpone its annual conference without financial penalties. “The sleep community supported us all the way,” Southern Sleep Society’s Marietta Bibbs says. “Now we can look toward rescheduling.”

Members of the Southern Sleep Society are clinicians who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, including pulmonologists, critical care physicians, respiratory therapists, and other health professionals. Due to COVID-19, they are unable to attend the Southern Sleep Society’s annual meeting, scheduled for March 26-29, 2020, in Atlanta, in light of travel moratoriums issued by the healthcare facilities where they are needed. But the meeting venue, Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel & Convention Center, says the hotel will host the meeting as scheduled or it will charge the regional sleep society more than $48,000 for a cancellation or postponement.

“As a nonprofit, this will lead to financial ruin, if we have to pay this plus return registration fees,” says Marietta Bibbs, BA, RPSGT, CCSH, FAAST, manager of Southern Sleep Society. Southern Sleep Society is “a wonderfully historic organization,” she adds, started by “the pioneers in sleep medicine in order to get together to share informations snd research findings. At that time there was no internet or fax machines so they corresponded a lot on paper.”

The Southern Sleep Society sent the following correspondence to the Renaissance Waverly:

The Renaissance Waverly in Atlanta has refused to cancel a large meeting of the Southern Sleep Society (SSS) this month where invited speakers and participants include frontline physicians, nurses, researchers, respiratory therapists, and sleep technologists. The Society’s 42nd annual meeting was scheduled to provide information on the latest scientific data and trends on sleep and its disorders.

Many of these attendees are critical care physicians, pulmonologists, and pulmonary health care workers who often work with critically ill patient populations and are expected to work with those patients following infection by COVID-19. They must be given every opportunity to remain healthy and care for their patients.

Many of these health care workers have been restricted from travel by their medical institutions that employ them and are no longer able to attend meetings or travel from their hometown institutions. These physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals work at some of the most prestigious hospitals and medical centers in the world, including The University of Texas Health Science Center Houston, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Herman Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, Mayo, Vanderbilt Hospital System, BayCare Health System, and even Emory Hospitals. Nevertheless, this Marriot-run hotel is expected to continue to invoice the organizers of this meeting for over $50,000 despite this small non-profit society informing them that the majority of their speakers and attendees are under travel moratoriums. The Society requested that Renaissance Marriott not cancel, but allow them to reschedule the conference later in the year in order to avoid infecting their fellow health care workers. Needless to say, these are some of the most critically-important physicians in the country, and we certainly don’t want to expose them by having them attend a large conference which could easily be postponed. This small but critically important non-profit organization has sponsored countless educational meetings on sleep and its disorders for the past 42 years.

The meeting was to be held on March 26th through March 29th and in line with the CDC recommendations, participants are unlikely to attend this meeting, but the Renaissance Waverly Hotel continues to insist upon having the conference in their venue. We are sure the Renaissance Waverly is not the only entity that is trying to make a profit on this pandemic, but this seems more egregious since an entity that sponsors the education of health care workers is involved.

The Southern Sleep Society discussed with Renaissance Waverly that they should be concerned about having these types of medical personnel attending the conference who could easily be exposed to the virus and unknowingly travel to the facility and expose even more people, including the 225 registered participants. The Southern Sleep Society respectfully requested that Renaissance Waverly consider their request to postpone (not cancel) the Southern Sleep Society conference with the understanding that it would be rescheduled at their facility with the same pattern of rooms, banquets and under the same contract and conditions. The Society was committed to utilizing this Marriott property.

This is the response that the Southern Sleep Society received from the Renaissance Waverly:

Thank you for reaching out to Marriott Customer Care. First, we are very sorry that we both find ourselves in this situation and like you, we are hopeful that a remedy or relief is on the near horizon. However, specific to your situation and inquiry, when we agreed to enter into a contract to hold your conference here at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly, we also mutually agreed upon terms that are captured within the contract.

In lieu of recent events surrounding COVID-19, we have and continue to have conversations with our customers about the impact to their event. These are not easy conversations and we do not take them lightly. At this time, and we recognize that things may change, the hotel was and is prepared and capable of delivering a successful meeting consistent with what we both agreed to as written and signed in our contract. The only equitable and consistent way in which the hotel can facilitate these conversations and considerations is to abide by the terms of the contract that were agreed upon when the contract was signed.

What Sleep Professionals Can do

Bibbs says, “The hotel will invoice for 90% of the cost of contracted rooms plus the cost of food and beverages. We feel that this response from a Marriott executive clearly shows that they are not interested in the safety of the citizens of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, healthcare professionals, or even their own employees. Greed seems to trump safety.”

Southern Sleep Society has already refunded some conference registration fees upon request but will likely have to delay refunding others due to imminent cash flow issues. “We pay 3.99% for every card processed, plus $8.95 per registrant tor run through the registration software. I think people don’t realize that the society does not get all of the funds,” Bibbs says.

To support the society during this time, people can join the society to ease its cash flow burden. Dues are $35 for a year and the application form is online.

“And if they are Marriott Bonvoy members, they should let Marriott know how displeased they are about their insensitivity to the critical care and pulmonary physicians and respiratory therapist members who are a part of this society and on the front lines with this pandemic,” Bibbs says.