Successful advocacy translates the needs of your hospital and community into messages policymakers can understand and act on. It helps hospitals to affect favorable changes in legislation, but it also raises community awareness of a hospital's mission and the role of trustees in assuring the success of that mission. 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.

At the American Hospital Association, we like to say that every day is Advocacy Day, and that there is no better advocate for your hospital than you, the hospital trustee.

No one better than you can explain the role your organization plays in its community and the impact policy changes in Washington would have on your organization's ability to continue delivering care. Your insights can help lawmakers to see how payment cuts and changes in policy have real impact on real people.

Relationships Matter

Board members can be effective advocates by building and sustaining relationships with your legislators. An ongoing dialogue is the best way to ensure that they understand how their decisions will impact their constituents back home.

We tend to communicate with our legislators only when we want to urge them to take action for or against a certain piece of legislation. But it's also important to build a relationship with them to offer your expertise and counsel so that when a burning issue arises, they look for your opinion and give weight to what you say.

Don't overlook the importance of building relationships with key members of your legislators' staffs; they play an important role in every congressional office. Legislators rely on good staff work to evaluate the pros and cons of proposals, inform their positions and effectively represent the people of their districts. They also rely on staff to act as go-betweens with the White House and other legislators' offices and to draft legislation. It might not always be possible to speak with your legislators, but a healthy relationship with their staffs will help to ensure that your concerns are heard.

In this era of governing from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, it is more important than ever to nurture relationships with legislators. They need to understand the real-world implications of the decisions they make in Washington. 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 organization faces as it strives to continue to deliver those services.

Add Your Voice

Your efforts also strengthen a hospital's role as a valuable community partner, demonstrating
commitment to serve on multiple fronts. Legislators need to hear how your organization not only cares for individuals with acute care needs, but also supports and sustains the health — both physical and economic — of your community.

As you think of ways to reach out to your legislators, remember that it's important to work with your hospital's leaders to coordinate any contact with legislators to make sure you are sending the same message and not working at cross purposes. The AHA and your state association are happy to assist you in any way that we can.

I also encourage you to seek out 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 contribute to positive 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.

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 to 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. As a trustee, you are in an ideal position to help policymakers understand all that your hospital does for the community and the challenges that you face as you deliver needed services.

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.

Rick Pollack ( is executive vice president, advocacy and public policy, for the American Hospital Association, Washington, D.C.

Just for Board Members: Trustee Leadership Network

All current or former hospital trustees are encouraged to participate in the AHA Trustee Leadership Network. The network 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