A Message From NACHC President & CEO Tom Van Coverden to Advocates

Dear Health Center Advocates,

As we begin 2015, we begin the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Health Center Program. From their beginnings as part of the War on Poverty, 50 years ago until today, Health Centers have played a unique role in America’s healthcare system by providing access to quality healthcare to everyone in the communities they serve, regardless of patients’ ability to pay.50th

Yet now, as we celebrate that legacy of success, we are also faced with the biggest threat to the Health Center Program since its creation 50 years ago. The Health Center Funding Cliff – a looming 70% reduction in funding for the Health Center Program hangs over the program’s golden anniversary. Without action by Congress, this devastating reduction in Health Center funding will occur this fall and, if that happens, millions of people that Health Centers were created to serve will no longer have access to care.

I am sending you this message today because as a Health Center Advocate YOU have the power to preserve the Health Center Program and ensure a healthy future for Health Centers and the patients they serve. Congress MUST ACT to avert this funding cliff and, while we have all been working hard for months now to get Congress to act, the issue has not yet been addressed.

It is clear that Congress will not act to fix the cliff unless YOU and EVERY Health Center Advocate takes action in the weeks and months ahead by relentlessly calling, emailing and personally meeting with your Members of Congress. With so many contentious issues to be addressed this year, we have to break through the noise and partisan rhetoric to get Congress to act. We MUST tell the story of what fixing the cliff means locally and make taking action an immediate priority for every Member of Congress. The only way that can happen is if you and the community leaders you recruit as Health Center Advocates make it clear to Congress what their failure to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff would mean to your patients and your community. Use the cliff estimator tool to help estimate the impact of the funding cliff to your Health Center.

For 50 years, Health Center Advocates like you have preserved and built this incredible Health Center Movement. No matter which way the political winds have blown, grassroots advocates like you made sure that elected officials, opinion leaders, the media and other important partners knew the health center story and made possible the 50 year legacy of success we celebrate this year.

Tom Head ShotToday, I am personally asking YOU to step up and to redouble your advocacy to ensure that the legacy of success built by your Health Center Movement will continue. Right NOW, we need you to help us build and mobilize our advocacy army by asking your friends, family and colleagues to sign up as Health Center Advocates and to take action. I’m asking you to recommit yourself to taking action whenever called upon – that means taking as little as three minutes to send an email or make a phone call (toll free) to your Members of Congress. I’m asking you to commit to personally asking your Member of Congress to fix the funding cliff, repeatedly if necessary.

There is much at stake this year for Health Centers and their patients and failure is simply not an option!

Thank you.

tvc sig

 

 

Tom Van Coverden

President & CEO, NACHC

Patrick Butler: January 2015 Outstanding Advocate

pbutlerNACHC’s advocacy team is excited to announce the Outstanding Advocate for January 2015, Patrick Butler, CEO of Northland Community Health Center (NCHC) in Turtle Lake, ND!

Patrick Butler joined the Northland team in January 2012 after serving as the director of a Texas Health Center for a number of years. Bringing with him 25+ years of business experience and a passion for advocacy, he set to work to raise the profile of NCHC.

In his short tenure at Northland, Patrick has already done much to create a culture of advocacy among not only the board and staff, but also within the community.

He started with a top-down approach, incorporating basic advocacy training (including signing up as a NACHC advocate) into new board member orientation. Finding it difficult to motivate folks to get out in the community at first, he began to present NACHC’s Washington Update at board meetings and charge members to take action on important items. NCHC’s strategic plan now includes a provision for board members to venture out into the communities served by Northland and educate the public on what FQHCs do and why they are so vital to local communities.

Once he got the board engaged, Patrick then turned his attention to NCHC executive staff. He implemented many of the same activities- discussing NACHC issues and action alerts monthly, and having the COO and outreach staff join him at community events, like fundraisers and parades, to raise NCHC’s visibility in the community. Patrick has also worked hard to form community partnerships and foster productive relationships with other organizations. When NCHC expanded to open a medical and dental site in Minot, ND earlier this year (thanks to a New Access Point grant), Patrick and his staff put together a 15-minute presentation and visited public health offices and VA facilities among others to not only introduce Northland to the community, but also talk about the Health Center Funding Cliff and its impact on more than just FQHCs.

When Patrick started in 2012, NCHC was about ten years old and experiencing some friction with local hospitals and rural health clinics, all of whom fight for patients. “They didn’t know how to work together,” he said. “But in promoting who we [FQHCs] are, what we do, and why we do it- including telling them about some of the challenges that we’re facing, like the funding cliff, and how they might be impacted, as well- relationships among the major providers have definitely improved in the last year and a half.” He goes on to say that the hospitals, rural health clinics, and FQHCs in the area now meet quarterly to discuss how best to collaborate to serve the community.

Patrick’s work at Northland serves as a great example of how to build a culture of advocacy at Health Centers and beyond. By engaging his board and staff, advocacy has become an institutional priority, and something that people expect to take part in when they get involved with NCHC.

Great work, Patrick, and congratulations on being our January 2015 Outstanding Advocate!

 

Do you know an Outstanding Advocate who deserves this recognition? Let us know! Email Elizabeth Kwasnik at ekwasnik@nachc.org.

 

Spotlight: ALP Master of Advocacy- Bill Wesender

“Spotlight: ALP Masters of Advocacy” is a CFAHC blog series that shines a light on individuals who completed the Advocacy Leadership Program (ALP). Each year the ALP begins at NACHC’s Policy & Issues Forum continues throughout the year via advocacy educational webinars and an ALP Advocacy Project. Participants learn from both NACHC Advocacy Staff and each other how to develop and hone their advocacy skills in order to build advocacy capacity and develop a robust network on the ground in their communities. These blog articles feature the creative and successful advocacy work completed by some graduates of the ALP.

Today, we’re hearing from Bill Wesender, 2014 ALP Master of Advocacy, regarding his work on the Access is the Answer campaign at Aunt Martha’s.

Bill_HeadshotAunt Martha’s is a large community-based agency serving families and youth in the Chicago area and rural Illinois. When I returned from the NACHC Policy & Issues Forum in Washington, DC in the spring of 2014, the Health Division was engaged both in streamlining clinic service delivery procedures and bringing the electronic records system to nineteen clinics, as well as to administrative offices, across the state. Realizing how devastating a 70% cut to their funding would be if Congress doesn’t fix the Health Center Funding Cliff, especially with all of the projects being undertaken, Marsha Conroy, Director of Advocacy and Policy, presented NACHC’s Access is the Answer campaign to senior management using the Grassroots Action Center to generate messages to Members of Congress and collect petition signatures efficiently.

I went to five clinic sites, identified by our medical staff, multiple times over two weeks, asking patients in the waiting rooms to sign the petition. I also asked several community service groups to sign the petition, and eventually gathered over 500 signatures. Many stories were shared along the journey, several volunteers were identified for the agency, and I gained a better feeling for what it’s like in waiting areas.

kinzinger

Rep. Adam Kinzinger visits Aunt Martha’s during NHCW 2014. L to R: Rep. Kinzinger, Bill Wesender, Marsha Conroy, Heather Foster (NACHC) and Raul Garza. Photo courtesy of Aunt Martha’s.

Marsha Conroy regularly invites elected officials and community members to visit our clinics. We were fortunate to have Representatives Bill Foster and Adam Kinzinger visit our sites during National Health Center Week this year. Using the NACHC literature in conjunction with our new publication, “Cutting-edge. Care. Coordination.”, we discussed the Health Center Funding Cliff and how it would impact our services and their constituents. They were both great visits and reflect bipartisan support for resolving the crisis in 2015. At the time of this writing, eight Members of Congress from Illinois have signed the support letters NACHC has circulating in both the House and Senate, which is a great conclusion of this phase of the advocacy campaign.

[UPDATE: At the close of the sign-on period for the support letters, 18 of the 20 members of IL’s congressional delegation had signed on.]

Bill Wesender

Former Board President, Aunt Martha’s & Health Center Advocate

Congratulations, Bill, on completing the Advocacy Leadership Program and being one of our 2014 Masters of Advocacy!

Building a Relationship with New Members of Congress

The midterm election of 2014 has resulted in a great shift in the national political landscape. The control of the Senate is now in Republicans hands. For the first time, there will be 100 women collectively in both houses of Congress. And a total of 65 freshman Representatives and Senators have been elected to national office.

For Health Center advocates, this means that a number of familiar faces in Congress will soon be replaced by new legislators some of whom will have limited knowledge about Health Centers and the role they play in the health and economy of communities across the nation. What remains unchanged, however, is the need for Congress, current or incoming, to work together with the administration to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff – an up to 70% reduction in grant funding that will take effect in October 2015 if Congress fails to act.

With these facts on the table, it is now more important than ever for Health Center Advocates to reach out early and establish relationships with newly elected Members of Congress, particularly in the remaining months of 2014 before they arrive in Washington to begin their tenure in office.

Ellen Adlum,

Ellen Adlum, Board Member with Peninsula Community Health Services of Alaska

“This is an opportunity to shine,” said Ellen Adlum, a Board Member with Peninsula Community Health Services of Alaska. “When Lisa Murkowski was elected, we made it a point to meet with her and her delegation at the Health Center.” She continued, “We did our homework and went in with a clear and passionate message: Health Centers are a wise investment that provide the best care to those that would not otherwise have the ability to pay for medical services. We have a proven track record with decades of successful experience that is working to make our community healthier. She was so impressed with our Health Center, our staff, and our model. She became an early ally that we trusted and could turn to.”

Lisa Davidson,Director of Government Relations and Advocacy with the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association

Lisa Davidson, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy with the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association

Lisa Davidson, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy with the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, actively reaches out to her advocates to leverage existing relationships that they may already have with a newly elected Member of Congress. “Some of our advocates and Board Members worked on campaigns and attended fundraising events. This is particularly the case in smaller communities,” said Davidson. Not only have these relationships helped facilitate visits by newly elected legislators to Health Centers but they have also paved the way for more in depth discussion about the Health Center Funding Cliff and its effect upon

the member’s constituents. “We make it clear that all the good work we have done – giving people a high-quality medical home and saving the taxpayers money by treating patients who would otherwise go to the emergency room – is threatened if a fix to the Health Center Funding Cliff is not found,” explained Davidson

Thus, with the midterm election of 2014 as a backdrop, we are asking EVERY Health Centers to set up meetings at their Health Center with newly elected Members of Congress BEFORE they arrive in Washington. Part of the second phase of the Access is the Answer campaign, these meetings will help establish a supportive relationship and basic understanding of Health Center policy priorities and value.

To help your Health Center set-up these meetings and ensure that they are productive, NACHC is here to help. On our website, we have resources including:

“The key for Health Center advocates to understand is that, even though a change in Congressional leadership has occurred, the Health Center model is an apolitical one that works,” said Adlum. “Health Centers were started with the support of Senator Edward Kennedy and expanded under President George W. Bush. We’re a consistent and effective safety net providing vital primary, dental, and mental health care to over 22 million patients each year.”

NACHC Director of National Advocacy  and Civic ENgagement

Amanda Pears Kelly, Director of National Advocacy and Civic Engagement with NACHC

“Regardless of the outcome of the election, ultimately we need every newly elected Member of Congress to arrive in Washington a Health Center Champion – fully aware of the invaluable role Health Centers play in the community and to the health care system overall, fully aware of what is at stake relative to the Health Center Funding Cliff, and committed to take swift action to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff upon arriving in DC,” noted NACHC’s Director of National Advocacy and Civic Engagement Amanda Pears Kelly.

 

Doug Smith, Paula Grant, and Steve Davis: November 2014 Outstanding Advocates

NACHC’s advocacy team is excited to announce the Outstanding Advocates for November 2014, Doug Smith, Paula Grant, and Steve Davis from Greene County Health Care in Snow Hill, NC!

At the end of September, Representative G.K. Butterfield joined 249 other members of the House and signed on to the Health Center Funding Cliff letter. On October 21, he met with Greene County Health Care CEO Doug Smith, and was presented with nearly 7,000 petition signatures and nearly 40 local support letters as part of NACHC’s Access is the Answer campaign. Who is responsible for successfully engaging so many patients, Health Center staff, and community members around advocacy in North Carolina’s first district and garnering Rep. Butterfield’s support? Doug will gladly tell you it’s two stellar members of his staff: Paula Grant, Director of Medical Office Operations, and Steve Davis, Greene County’s Outreach Director.

greene county

CEO Doug Smith (center) meets with Rep. G.K. Butterfield (left) in October to deliver Greene County’s 7,000 petition signatures and 40 local support letters.

Paula and Steve have been quite successful in their efforts to engage patients and the community at large around Access is the Answer, and are an amazing example of how teamwork is crucial to getting things done in advocacy. “They galvanized the front offices and the outreach staff to collect signatures from our patients,” Doug said. When Outreach & Enrollment staff ventured outside the walls of the Health Center, they found people were willing and eager to help out. Doug recognizes that, in general, the community “wants to be supportive [of Greene County Health Care] and the petition was a relatively simple way for people to participate—that’s what grassroots advocacy is all about.” Paula and Steve have done an outstanding job of capturing peoples’ willingness to participate in advocacy- the approximately 7,000 signatures and 40 local support letters represent the support of over 20% of the more than 30,000 patients served by Greene County through their medical, dental, family therapy, and outreach services.

Not only did Paula and Steve seek out grassroots support at the ground level by reaching out to patients and community members, but Greene County staff were also encouraged to get involved. Access is the Answer was discussed at the center’s management meetings. In this case, to be truly successful required commitment, prioritization, and a group effort. Doug Smith takes pride in the fact that “all we do is done in teams.” The work that Paula and Steve have done to engage folks at various levels and meet people where they are speaks to the true nature of grassroots advocacy. It is also an excellent example of how a team approach to advocacy at Health Centers is a recipe for success!

Congratulations, Doug, Paula, and Steve for being our November Outstanding Advocates! And thanks for all your hard work to make the Access is the Answer campaign a success!

For more information and resources on how to create an advocacy team at your Health Center, click here. Do you know an Outstanding Advocate who deserves this recognition? Let us know! Email Elizabeth Kwasnik at ekwasnik@nachc.org.

The Role of Clinicians in Promoting Advocacy

Community Health Centers serve over 22 million patients annually at approximately 9,000 sites across the country. That’s thousands of providers seeing, treating, and caring for our families, friends, and neighbors, day in and day out. But did you know that providers also have another incredibly important and valuable role?

Clinicians are among the strongest and most powerful advocates for Health Centers and the people they serve. They exist in a unique space in advocacy where the rubber meets the road—where policies born in Washington, DC are put into practice in local communities. They both see and experience how those policies translate relative to patient care as well as impact the Health Center as a business and economic engine. Clinicians are also trusted sources of information, held in high esteem by both their patients and Members of Congress. Many times, they are leaders in the community. When they talk, people listen.

Yet, in spite of the unique position they are in to affect meaningful change for their Health Centers and patients, clinicians may not feel empowered to stand up as advocates, or feel they don’t have the time to take part in advocacy efforts. But we need clinicians now more than ever to carry the Health Center message to Capitol Hill and beyond!

Recently, and in light of the Health Center Funding Cliff—an up to 70% reduction in grant funding that will take effect in October 2015 if Congress fails to act—the advocacy team worked with members of NACHC’s Clinical Advocacy Advisory Group to compose a short video about why it is so important for clinicians to get involved now. The video is below. Clinicians do have a unique and powerful perspective, and signing up to lend your voice as an advocate only takes a moment. Join us!

Clinician video screen shotNot only are we asking clinicians to get involved by becoming advocates and talking to Members of Congress about issues impacting Health Centers, we’re also asking them to reach out within their communities to get others involved. Whether it’s to patients, colleagues, or their own families and friends, the Health Center message delivered by a trusted voice can be very impactful.

That’s where NACHC can help. We have many resources available for all advocates, clinician or otherwise, to ensure that everyone is up-to-date on our latest issues, like the Access is the Answer campaign to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff, and feel comfortable talking about our policy priorities to folks in the community and Congress alike. Sending an email up to Capitol Hill takes less than five minutes and each message makes a difference! We’ve tried to make advocacy easy and accessible so that everyone who works at, for, or receives care from a Health Center can speak up and make their voices heard!

Please share the above video with your colleagues, and encourage clinicians that you know and who work at your Health Center to sign up as an advocate today! If you’re a clinician and want more information on how to get further involved, contact Elizabeth Kwasnik at ekwasnik@nachc.org.

The Critical Nature of Educating Candidates & Newly Elected Members of Congress About the Health Center Program and the HC Funding Cliff

The November 2014 election is just around the corner. In few short weeks, 36 seats in the Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs. While the thousands of petitions gathered by Health Center advocates and the legislative signatures collected on the “Dear Colleague” Congressional letter were powerful steps in the effort to avert the Health Center Funding Cliff, this busy election season presents Health Center advocates with a unique opportunity to make the case for the restoration of Health Center funding directly with the candidates – incumbents and challengers alike – who are campaigning in their home districts.

While it may seem counterintuitive to put time and effort into reaching out to all of those running for office, some of whom will inevitably not be victorious, reaching out to all the candidates in these races strengthens Health Center’s relationships with current officials and helps sows the seeds for new connections with future leaders.

NACHC Director of National Advocacy  and Civic Engagement

NACHC Director of National Advocacy and Civic Engagement Amanda Pears Kelly

“Today, as candidates are eager to learn about the local organizations that most support those in need in the community, and after the election this November, as newly elected officials consider the most important providers in their state and districts – Health Center Advocates must take every opportunity to provide a personal introduction to Health Centers and begin cultivating an important and lasting relationship,” said Amanda Pears Kelly, NACHC’s Director of National Advocacy and Civic Engagement. “Being able to demonstrate both the success and value of the Health Center model for candidates and newly elected officials will leave a lasting impression,” she continued, “especially as they consider healthcare issues in their official capacity and contemplate how resources should be used to support various programs in the future.”

These personal introductions are a sterling opportunity for your Health Centers to put itself on center stage and show candidates the amazing work and high quality services that your center provides to their constituents.

NACHC Director of Federal Affairs John Sawyer

NACHC Director of Federal Affairs John Sawyer

“A fundamental reason Health Centers have been so successful in the policy arena is that key decision-makers know who we are and understand what we do. Members of Congress need to feel a personal connection to our work at the community level in order to translate that into action at the national level,” said John Sawyer, NACHC’s Director of Federal Affairs. “This has never been more important – we need to be educating candidates, taking them on tours of Health Centers, explaining to them not only what we bring to the table, but what would happen if our federal support were to be cut. No matter who wins an election, doing proactive education with all candidates will pay dividends for health centers down the road.”

Thus, it is time for Health Centers to seize the moment! Reach out and invite candidates in your district to visit your Health Center so they can see first hand what makes Health Centers unique among health care providers. Be determined to make every “newly elected Member of Congress that arrives in Washington into a Health Center Champion – fully aware of the invaluable role Health Centers play in the community and to the health care system overall, fully aware of what is at stake relative to the Health Center Funding Cliff, and committed to take swift action to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff upon arriving in DC,” said Pears Kelly.

For more information about how to invite an elected official and/or candidates to your Health Center, how to prepare for and communicate effectively during these meetings, and more helpful resources, please check the Working with Elected Officials section on the saveourchcs.org website. If you do schedule a meeting with an elected official and/or candidates, please be sure to let us know by filling out this simple online form.

Michael Nicastro: October 2014 Outstanding Advocate

mnicastroNACHC’s advocacy team is excited to announce the Outstanding Advocate for October 2014, Michael Nicastro, Director of Community Outreach at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center!

Michael Nicastro has dedicated his career to serving the underserved at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC). For the past 37 years, he has worn many hats at EBNHC- from his start as a lab technician, to working on the development of safety programs, to his current position as the Director of Community Outreach.

Michael’s efforts to engage various populations and bring them into the Health Center fold gets right to the heart of grassroots advocacy and the meaning of community. “One of my main duties is to reach the underserved and disenfranchised individuals who live in the communities of our catchment area,” he said. With so much unmet need in this country, reducing barriers to care is one of the most important ways Health Centers can improve and increase access to primary medical care. Michael leads the charge for East Boston by engaging those who are most in need. “I hold outreach events at schools and non-profit organizations. I go to churches of every denomination, as well as mosques. [I] reach out to those who are poor, undocumented, homeless, and have substance abuse problems.”

So far, his efforts have been very successful in bringing more and more people to the Health Center. EBNHC’s CEO, Manny Lopes, says of Michael, “[he] has done an excellent job advocating for many in our service areas, and often has been instrumental in helping community members access much-needed care.”

In addition to reaching out to individuals who might benefit from the many services EBNHC provides, he is always looking for ways to partner with other organizations, making good health and positive well-being a collaborative, group effort—not just something EBNHC tries to achieve on its own. One example of such partnership is the work Michael has done to facilitate a relationship between EBNHC and Cradles to Crayons, an organization that provides clothing, school supplies, and other essentials to children living in low-income households, poverty, or who are homeless. Another example, from his time working on safety programs at EBNHC, is operating a child safety seat distribution program at the Health Center in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Whether he is working with the homeless or another local-non-profit, Michael truly puts the “community” in Community Health Center.

As far as efforts on NACHC’s Access is the Answer campaign, Michael collected over 13,000 petition signatures from EBNHC and surrounding communities. His efforts to collect local support letters also proved fruitful, as he was able to secure copies from area mayors and city councilors as well as state-level representatives and senators. Local support letters are a crucial part of the Access campaign, as they demonstrate to Congress a broad base of support back home for Community Health Centers, and Michael’s tireless efforts on behalf of EBNHC certainly paid off—both of MA’s US Senators and Reps. Capuano and Clark (whose districts are served by EBNHC) recently signed on to letters calling for a fix to the Health Center Funding Cliff.

Congratulations, Michael, on being our October 2014 Outstanding Advocate!

 

Do you know an Outstanding Advocate who deserves this recognition? Let us know! Email Elizabeth Kwasnik at ekwasnik@nachc.org.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in America’s Health Centers

HispanicHeritageMonthCesar Chavez said, “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” As Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15th-October 15th, comes to a close, we celebrate the unique cultural contributions of over 50 million Hispanic Americans and over 7 million Hispanic American Health Center patients.

Health Centers across the country serve patients of all backgrounds, ethnicities, races, languages, dialects, and cultures. They hire providers and staff from the community, and are run by Boards with a majority of patients. They treat their patients with dignity, making sure they leave the Health Center feeling healthy and confident.

The Campaign for America’s Health Centers is proud of the culturally competent care Health Centers work hard to deliver, and we support and encourage the role Health Centers play in encouraging their patients to be Advocates for themselves, their Health Centers, and their communities.  To support this role, we distribute a weekly Spanish newsletter via email to keep Spanish-speaking Advocates informed on important Health Center Advocacy updates and calls to action. In addition, to make staying engaged as easy as possible we offer a mobile advocacy network from which we send text messages in Spanish with advocacy information and easy ways to take action.  To be successful we follow a model in which we work directly with Health Centers to collect best practices and resources. This is in recognition of the Health Center model to engage and recognize the unique needs and priorities of various cultures and ethnicities.

The Campaign for America’s Health Centers celebrates the unique contributions Hispanic Americans bring to our country every day, and we applaud the Health Centers that promote the health and wellbeing of all of their patients through culturally and linguistically competent care. Thank you for respecting and honoring the cultures of all Americans.3

To learn more about the work the Campaign for America’s Health Centers is doing to encourage Hispanic Health Center patients to become Advocates, take a look at our website, featuring a new video in Spanish speaking to the importance of being an Advocate. To signup for the Campaign for America’s Health Centers weekly Spanish newsletter and/or text messages, click here.

Advocacy During an Election Year: Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid

Marc

Marc Wetherhorn, NACHC’s former Senior Director of Advocacy and Civic Engagement and current Project Director of Community Health Vote

With the Health Center Funding Cliff looming on the horizon and the election only a few weeks away, this is an ideal time for advocates to ramp up their efforts to make the case for continued support and funding of Health Centers. However, because there is an election underway, it is important for health center to be aware of what they can and cannot do as 501c3 non-profit organizations. The IRS has long-standing restrictions on the advocacy and political activity of 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations.

To provide some insight into these issues, we’ve invited Marc Wetherhorn, NACHC’s former Senior Director of Advocacy and Civic Engagement and current Project Director of Community Health Vote, to weigh in on some frequently asked questions related to Health Center advocacy in an election environment.

NOTE: This blog is presented for informational purposes only. Please contact a licensed attorney if you have any specific questions or concerns about the political activity at your health center.

 

Question 1:

As a 501c.3, can I invite candidates to tour our Health Center and meet our staff and patients? Can I invite just the incumbent running for office? Just his/her opposition? Do I have to invite every candidate, even those from “fringe groups”?

501(c)(3) organizations can host candidates or have a legislative breakfast in which politicians come to discuss pertinent policy issues with Health Center staff and board. These candidate appearances are permitted as long as the organization provides equal opportunity to all political candidates seeking office and provides a fair, non-partisan forum. Generally speaking, organizations should extend invitations to all candidates seeking the same office.

Question 2:

How should these invitations be sent out (phone/email)? How much advance should be give? Does it matter?

It does not matter how the invitations are issued; however, it is always wise to have something in writing to describe the event and to document the invitation. Most elected officials and candidates have pretty full schedules, so the more time they are given to try to work your activity into their schedule the better.

Question 3:

Can candidates speak publicly at my Health Center, if for example the press is present? Can s/he talk about the Health Center Funding Cliff? 

Candidates can speak to your staff, board and others and answer questions about their views as part of a visit to educate them about the center and issues important to the center and its patients, but they cannot campaign and shouldn’t be allowed to make a public speech. If the press is present, they can cover the visit and what the candidate says but shouldn’t be allowed to ask questions during the visit.  It should be made clear to the candidate and the press that the visit is only to educate the candidate.

Question 4:

Can our Health Center support or oppose and candidates? Similarly, by being present at our Health Center, does this count as an endorsement of a particular individual running for office particularly if only one candidate makes a personal visit?

No. The IRS completely prohibits all partisan political activity. This means that a Health Center cannot directly, or indirectly, participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.

Candidate appearances are permitted as long as the Health Center provides equal opportunity to all political candidates seeking office and provides fair, non-partisan forum.  Whether this activity constitutes political intervention will be determined by the surrounding facts and circumstances.

Question 5:

Are candidates allowed to fundraise or distribute campaign literature while at our Health Center? Can we have a policy in place regarding fundraising that we can share with candidates in advance?

No. The same “non-intervention” rules apply as in the previous question. Certainly your center can establish it’s own rules prohibiting this type of activity but they would simply be restating the law.

 Question 7:

What can I, as a Health Center staff/volunteer/board member/volunteer, do on my own time when it comes to endorsing or campaigning for a candidate? How do I distinguish personal conduct from actions undertaken on behalf of the Health Center?

The prohibition on partisan political campaign activity does not apply to the activities of officers, directors, or employees acting in their individual capacity. Staff may work on political campaigns outside work hours, or using their available leave time. However, leaders and volunteers may not use the facilities, equipment, personnel, or other resources of the organization to provide support or oppose a candidate or campaign.

Health Centers would be wise to protect themselves by:

1. Requiring officers or employees acting as individuals engaged in partisan political activity to clearly state that they are acting in their individual capacity, not on behalf of the Health Center, and that any reference to their work for the Health Center is made only for identification purposes.

2. Notifying employees of their limitation on use of their staff time and office facilities. Time sheets should reflect that an employee took leave to participate in partisan activity.

3. Disavowing any partisan actions of officials or employees that appear to be authorized by the organization, taking steps to ensure such actions are not repeated. Such a disavowal should be in writing and done in a timely manner.

Question 7:

What are the rules regarding voter registration at Health Centers?

A Health Center can engage in voter registration activities provided that voter registration is handled in a completely nonpartisan manner. In fact, Health Centers that have out-stationed Medicaid eligibility workers on site (either public employees or Health Center employees with delegated authority) may be required to do voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act, also known as “Motor Voter.”

Question 8: Where can health centers find more information about the rules for engaging in advocacy and political activity?

Health centers looking of more detailed information can go to

Community Health Vote

Nonprofit Vote 

Internal Revenue Service