The Access is the Answer campaign is now in full swing! By the end of March, health center advocates from across the nation had already gathered more than 87,000 signatures on the Access is the Answer petition asking Congress and the President to fix the Health Centers funding cliff. 67 health centers far exceeded the goal of collecting 500 signatures per center and many more stepped up by collecting signatures by organizing petition drives locally. While it definitely “takes a village” to get a drive like this off the ground, one key to the success of many of the health centers that reached this goal was having the strong support of health center leadership – executive directors, chief medical officers, board members and others – in their advocacy efforts.
Marsha Conroy, Director of Advocacy and Policy at Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center and Health Center in Illinois, made the case to her executive team that – with health centers facing a 70% cut to their grant funding – “advocacy needs to happen. We could not simply make a dent.” Rather than focusing more narrowly on clinical operations, “we all needed to step up and advocate for funding,” she said. Over the course of three staff meetings, Conroy explained the goals of the Access is the Answer campaign, listed targets for numbers of petition signatures, and “asked staff to do their homework by signing the petition themselves and asking ten others to sign on as well.” Ex-board president Bill Wesender took this challenge to heart and went into the center’s waiting rooms to explain the campaign to patients and gather signatures. In the case of Aunt Martha’s health center, the commitment and leadership of this former board president along with clear goals to measure their efforts ultimately lead to the collection of 501 petition signatures and ongoing advocacy success across the organization.
At Open Door Family Medical Centers in New York, President and Chief Executive Officer Lindsay Farrell made it a point to educate “staff about how advocacy impacts our ability to increase funding.” She noted that “we included information about advocacy in our new hire orientation,” and as a result, every staff member knows “how we’re connected to state and federal legislators in Albany and DC, and that more funding means more centers, more locations, more programs, and more raises.” Farrell also makes it a point to include information about advocacy efforts like the Access is the Answer campaign in her monthly updates that are sent to all Open Door staff. Part of the advocacy success Open Door has been able to realize has been a result of leadership’s effort to instill a culture of advocacy through the organization and make advocacy a part of everything that goes on at the health center.
At Central Virginia Health Services, Development Director Sheena MacKenzie said that Executive Director Roderick Manifold “understands how the decisions our elected officials make play out in terms of lives of our patients. He personally devotes the time and engages all levels of the organization in advocacy…and supports positions that support our patients.” MacKenzie notes that in the Access is the Answer campaign Manifold has “shown by example and educated and empowered the staff to take ownership of advocacy” by encouraging everyone to do their best by “trying new things and to be creative in getting people’s interest.” Leading by example, Manifold not only exemplifies the type of advocacy commitment he expects from his staff he also recognizes that EVERYONE involved with the health center, from staff to board members to patients must engage for their advocacy efforts to be successful.
Until the health center funding cliff is fixed, the mission to collect Access is the Answer petition signatures continues and the next steps of the Access is the Answer advocacy campaign remain critical to the future of the Health Centers Program. Think about adopting and adapting some of these strategies at your health center and then try setting advocacy collection goals for the coming months! This is a high-stakes, all-hands-on-deck effort that is most successful when Health Center leadership makes advocacy a core component of their center’s mission and overall culture. If you have questions or need help getting started you can contact the advocacy team at firstname.lastname@example.org And don’t forget to report your advocacy efforts and collection numbers on our website or by emailing email@example.com.