Not one to exaggerate, I was appalled at the recent World Psychiatric Association World Congress in Buenos Aires. Like all the big conferences I have attended, the sessions were uneven in quality. Some of the research reported from South America, especially Argentina, was top-notch.
The problem with the congress was in the cynical approach to its organization and logistics. The congress was too large for the venue, and the organizers knew this in advance. Registration on the day before the formal start of the conference, even for those preregistered, took upward of four hours. The lines in the anteroom were unorganized, serpentine queues, with people standing belly to back and shoulder to shoulder in an area outside the exhibition hall. There were no directional signs and no staffing to direct people.
After making my way around the crowd and finding no beginning or end to the line, I found the only staffer in the hotel lobby. She was an ineffectual and defensive information lady who passive-aggressed me about getting contact with management to find someone who could mitigate the problem. An e-mail to the conference organizer was never answered. I finally registered the next day, losing a half day of conference, and it took two and a half hours of standing in line. Only on Monday of the congress was there any staff to direct participants, but there were still no signs.
Popular symposia were held in rooms that could not contain the attendees safely, and people were sitting in the aisles and crowding SRO in the back. The ventilation was grossly inadequate. The only fire-suppression system consisted of scattered fire extinguishers attached to walls around the hotel. A fire would have resulted in death and injury to a significant segment of world psychiatrists. It wasn’t until Tuesday that someone must have successfully communicated concern about fire danger, because in one session, there was a lame announcement about fire safety. The Sheraton Hotel where the conference was held did not comply with modern fire-safety regulations.
I have photos of this chaos for anyone interested, and I noted several other participants documenting the mess.
The conference charged $600 per registrant for 13,000 attendees, with an overabundance of corporate sponsors sprawled over the exhibition hall and all the corridors. One must assume that the organizers collected in the range of $20 million or more from registrants and corporate sponsors while stinting on comfort and safety. The conference organizer contracted by the World Psychiatric Association was MCI Buenos Aires, at Avenida Santa Fe, 1 ƕ Piso, Oficina 1, C1123AAO, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I strongly urge APA to verify my statement and apply sanctions to the WPA and MCI and issue a complaint to the Sheraton Hotel chain on behalf of APA members and others who attended the meeting.