Article Images

We at the American Hospital Association talk a lot about advocating on behalf of hospitals and urge members, hospital trustees, volunteers and anyone concerned about their local hospital to get involved. But what exactly does that mean, and how can you ensure you play an effective role?

Advocacy refers to any activity that attempts to change government policy. It helps hospitals effect favorable changes in legislation, and it also raises community awareness of a hospital's mission and services. Advocacy also strengthens your community, by giving voice to the people served by your hospital who lack effective representation — children, the poor, the elderly and others.

As a trustee, you are in the best position to help legislators understand all that your hospital does for the community 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the challenges that your hospital faces as it strives to continue to deliver those services. You are in a position to paint a vivid picture of the impact that your organization has not only on your community's physical health, but also on its economic health as well.

Hospitals are a cornerstone for community economic development and have been one of the few bright spots in terms of job growth. They employ more than 5.4 million people. And as hospitals and hospital employees buy goods and services from other businesses, they create additional jobs and economic enterprise throughout the community.

The board can be the most effective source for providing concrete examples illustrating the effect legislation is having, or will have, on your patients, community and hospital. As nonpaid volunteers, trustees are powerful and credible advocates. Who else is specifically tasked with advocating on behalf of the community?

The good news is that it is relatively easy to make your voice heard.

How to Get Involved

There are many ways a hospital or health system trustee can play an advocacy role. They include:

  • Speaking with legislators to ensure hospitals continue to have the resources they need to serve Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries;
  • Sitting down with state and federal officials to discuss easing the regulatory burden that inhibits hospitals from innovating in some ways to further reduce costs and improve quality;
  • Testifying at a public forum about the value of preventive health care, and how it maintains health and reduces the burden on hospital emergency departments;
  • Supporting hospitalwide efforts to contact elected officials on specific issues impacting your organization.

Advocacy does work. It can help shape laws and regulations that allow you and your organization's team to take care of people. Successful advocacy translates the needs of your hospital and community into messages policymakers can understand and act upon. And that makes a difference.

As you think of ways to reach out to your legislators, remember to work with your hospital administrators to coordinate any contact with legislators and make sure you're sending the same message and not working at cross purposes. It's also critically important that you stay informed on the issues of greatest importance to your organization and your community, so you can be an effective spokesperson.

I also encourage you to seek opportunities to become involved in shaping the hospital and health system field's advocacy and public policy development through the AHA. Our board of trustees relies on the input of various committees as it works with staff to shape the association's policy and advocacy positions. Hospital trustees play a critical role. Their expertise and insights inform and shape AHA policy, and their advocacy efforts help effect favorable changes in both federal and state legislation by informing legislators and influencing public opinion.

The Committee on Governance, the AHA's leading trustee involvement group, spearheads grassroots advocacy and provides input into the AHA's policy development efforts. Members serve three-year terms, are expected to attend three meetings annually, and must be associated with an AHA member hospital or health system throughout the length of their terms.

Our Regional Policy Boards serve as one of the primary lines of communication between the AHA and its members. Members provide input on policy issues and serve as an ad hoc development committee when appropriate. They also help identify needs and challenges unique to each region and assist in developing solutions.

If you can't devote time to an AHA group, there are many other ways you can be involved. Throughout the year, the AHA will call on hospital leaders to advocate on various issues. You can lend your voice to these grassroots efforts along with those of hospital employees, volunteers and physicians.

In addition, all current or former hospital trustees are encouraged to participate in the AHA Trustee Leadership Network. It provides information, resources and activities for trustees who are committed to advancing the health of individuals and communities, and supporting their local hospital's work through advocacy activities. For more information, contact Rita Harmata at 312-422-3311 or rharmata@aha.org.

If you've been an active participant in the AHA in the past, thank you for your commitment. Keep up the good work and please encourage your fellow trustees to become involved. If you are interested in taking on a greater role, I encourage you to explore your options.

For more information on ways to become involved, and information on the most pressing issues facing the hospital and health system field, please visit www.aha.org and check back frequently for updates.

Rich Umbdenstock (rich@aha.org) is president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, Washington, D.C.