The American Hospital Association's Board of Trustees relies on the input of various specialty committees, regional policy boards, governing councils and task forces as it works with staff to shape the policy and advocacy positions of the association.

Hospital trustees are a valuable asset to the association. Trustees' 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. Because trustees' insight is so highly valued, the association seeks to involve them at every level of its governance structure.

"The AHA is a bottom-up organization and has an excellent structure to obtain member input from all elements of the organization," says Lanny Kope, a trustee at Sierra Vista (Ariz.) Regional Health Center who has chaired the AHA's Committee on Governance and served on one of its Regional Policy Boards. "This is an important feature, so you can make your hospital's voice heard at the national level as health care policy is being developed that will affect you and your hospital," he adds.

Numerous Opportunities

The Committee on Governance is the AHA's lead trustee involvement group. It spearheads trustee involvement in grassroots advocacy and provides input into the AHA's policy development efforts. The committee also provides advice on AHA's trustee initiatives and seeks to enhance communication with and involvement of trustees in the association.

The COG is composed primarily of trustees and includes three chair officers, nine regional members and up to 16 at-large members. An AHA Board of Trustees member is a liaison between the board and the committee. Members serve three-year terms and are expected to attend three meetings annually. Like all AHA committees, the COG seeks gender, racial and ethnic diversity; appropriate geographic distribution; and representation from the different types of hospitals and health systems.

The AHA's nine Regional Policy Boards offer another way for trustees to have a voice in the association's policy development and governance processes. The RPBs, each of which has 40 to 80 members depending on the region, comprise primarily AHA-member CEOs, but also include physicians, nurse executives, trustees and CEOs of state, regional and metropolitan hospital associations. Each RPB is chaired by a member of the AHA Board of Trustees, and other members of the AHA board and executive committee attend meetings. The RPBs meet three times per year (spring, summer and fall) in locations around the region, and members are required to serve a three-year term.
The RPBs were designed primarily to provide input on policy issues in development, advocacy and field leadership initiatives to be considered by the AHA Board of Trustees. They also help to implement association policy and programs, identify problems and needs unique to their regions, and develop programs to meet those needs.

"The meetings provided a great deal of fulfillment because I knew that the discussions and debates we had on policy issues were heard by the AHA," says Thomasine Kennedy, who serves as secretary of the board at Vidant Health in Greenville, N.C., and has held various positions in the AHA's governance structure, including COG chair. "The staff always listened carefully, but continued to probe the COG on many issues to truly gain the trustee perspective. Each meeting was exciting and challenging, and I was always anxious to return to my board to share new information and ideas that I learned at our meetings."

Adds Ernest Sutton, a former chairman of the Albemarle Hospital Board Authority in Elizabeth City, N.C., who served as COG chair and as a member of the AHA Center for Healthcare Governance's National Board of Advisors, "My experiences have provided me the opportunity to participate in the transformation of systems that are responsible for providing health care and wellness to the community on a daily basis."

In addition, trustee representation is sought for the governing councils of the AHA's various constituency sections. There also exist opportunities throughout the year to become involved in ad hoc committees and task forces, as well as the Center for Healthcare Governance.

Getting Involved

Once a year, interested trustees throughout the country are invited to apply for a role in the association. The application can be found at www.aha.org/trusteeopportunities. The call for nominations is open now through March 19.

To participate in any of these groups, interested trustees must submit an application and must be associated with an AHA institutional member hospital or health system throughout their term on the committee. Regional appointees must be associated with an institutional member of the AHA located within the region. Trustee appointees must have at least three years' experience as a trustee by the time of the appointment. No more than one representative from a hospital may serve on the same committee, and only one trustee candidate may be nominated per organization per year.

The COG's Leadership Development Committee is the trustee screening and nominating committee, comprising trustees who previously have served in AHA governance roles. It vets nominations for all trustee positions within the AHA governance structure. The committee seeks candidates who have exhibited accomplishments in one or more of the following:

  • leadership in community-focused health care delivery
  • leadership in local hospital/health system or other health care organization board
  • participation in state or metropolitan health care association activities
  • participation and leadership in other AHA involvement opportunities
  • leadership in local or national political advocacy activities

The committee also looks for candidates who have demonstrated leadership potential; willingness to devote time for COG/RPB meetings and responsibilities; fairness; consensus-building skills; ethical behavior; strong interest in public policy discussion and debate; active participation in and contribution to discussions; and flexibility.

All interested parties are encouraged to apply. Candidates have a telephone interview with two members of the committee in the spring. The committee's nominations are then forwarded to the COG for approval, the AHA's Board of Trustees makes the final appointments, and letters are sent to nominees in the fall. Those not selected for COG or RPB positions will serve as the trustee leadership pool for other appointments in the association.

While the committee looks for certain experiences and personal characteristics, it also aims to represent the complexity of the hospital field and seeks representatives from all types of organizations.

"I have come to appreciate that AHA's policies and practices must reflect the diversity of its member institutions, large and small, urban and rural, general and specialty, geographically distinct," says Mary Kitchell, who serves on the publicly elected board of Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, Iowa, and is a member of the COG's Leadership Development Committee. "It must also take into consideration the diversity of roles within those institutions. As a governing board member, I felt that my point of view was valued and ultimately influenced AHA's practices."

Playing a Role in Advocacy

For trustees who do not seek a formal role, but want to participate actively in the advocacy initiatives of the association, the AHA Trustee Leadership Network provides a forum. Throughout the year, the association calls on hospital leaders to advocate on various issues. Trustees are in a particularly good position to help policymakers understand all that hospitals do for the community, and the challenges they face as they continue to deliver much-needed services.

In the current political environment, it is more important than ever for hospital leaders to build and nurture relationships with their legislators. They need to understand the real-world implications of the decisions made in Washington, D.C., and there is no better advocate for your hospital than a trustee.

Successful advocacy translates the needs of the hospital and community into messages policymakers can understand and act on. Trustees can paint a vivid picture of the impact that their organization has not only on the community's physical health, but on its economic health as well.

The Trustee Leadership 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. All current or former hospital/health system trustees are invited to be part of the Trustee Leadership Network.

Whatever a trustee's reasons for becoming involved in the association, trustees gain as much personally as the AHA gains from their experience, says Penny Brooke, a trustee at Intermountain Healthcare Central Urban Region in Salt Lake City, who has served on multiple committees, including chairing the AHA Leadership Development Committee.
"The networks of associates and friendships I have developed through my involvement are lifelong rewards of working with the AHA committees," she says. "I highly recommend that all trustees make the time to participate in and enjoy the service opportunities AHA offers to trustees."

Kimberly McNally, R.N., M.N. (kamcnally@att.net), is chair of the AHA Leadership Development Committee and a trustee of Harborview Medical Center/UW Medicine in Seattle.

Sidebar - Trustees in Action