For the first time, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) is conducting its annual convention and expo on a virtual basis, driven to do so by the COVID-19 pandemic that will keep long term and post-acute care providers from meeting in person, but not from experiencing a nearly month-long opportunity to gain education credits from dozens of learning sessions.

Attendees also have opportunities to meet with their peers during extensive online networking and social breaks.

The convention, which started Thursday afternoon with a national moment of silence for those lives lost in long term care facilities to the coronavirus, will run through Oct. 31 with a full schedule of events staggered throughout the month. Already, AHCA/NCAL has announced its two new boards for 2020-2021, which is just the beginning of what will be many important functions and information sharing during the annual confab, says Mark Parkinson, AHCA/NCAL president and chief executive officer.

“There is a heck of a lot of information we have been able to put together to help providers in our continued battle against COVID,” he says. “Providers can really learn a lot to help in their care management in buildings, and I think it is important we all come together even if not in person to hold virtually meetings that have real value. We hope this is our last virtual convention, but we will make the most of it.”

The start, with the moment of silence, set the tone for this year’s event, Parkinson notes, calling the pandemic “an unprecedented clinical nightmare” in long term care facilities. “The number of residents and staff that have been infected with COVID and died is just staggering, so we thought it appropriate to take a moment to reflect on their lives and their losses and just on what a serious problem this has been.”

The Oct. 8 Opening General Session featured guest speakers including Parkinson, astronaut Captain Scott Kelly, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Leon Logothetis, global adventurer and motivational speaker.

The Opening General Session will play again Friday, Oct. 9, at 12:00 p.m. (ET) with a live chat to allow attendees to reflect with one another on the powerful words and moving experiences of the speakers regarding the coronavirus. Make sure to stay until the very end for lots of exciting surprise guests offering support and thanks.

As of Oct. 8, more than 1,500 long term care professionals had registered to attend the AHCA/NCAL Virtual Convention & Expo. Registration is open throughout the entire month of October. To see the full schedule and learn more, visit​