As National Health Center Week 2014 (August 10 -16) approaches, many Health Center advocates have been successful at lining up visits with their Members of Congress onsite at their centers. At time of publication, more than 30 Members of Congress have already confirmed attendance at National Health Center Week events, with event commitments coming in daily.
By introducing Members of Congress and all elected leaders to health center patients, staff, and Boards of Directors, they are able to bear witness to the vital and essential services the health center provides to the community. Furthermore, these visits are a prime opportunity to present your Member of Congress with signed Access is the Answer petitions and letters of Health Center support from elected officials and community supporters. But how can centers take advantage of these visits to make them transformative events that help shift a Member of Congress from a supporter into a true Health Center champion?
“NHCW is arguably the best opportunity Health Centers have each year to educate their members of Congress (as well as state legislators) about the important work of Health Centers in your states. It makes it so much more real for them to see Health Centers in action and observe firsthand the tremendous impact health center staff, clinicians and board members have in communities across the country,” said Jana Eubank, NACHC Associate Vice President for Public Policy and Research. “(Texas) Congresswoman Kay Granger and Senator John Cornyn are great examples of elected officials who have become champions in Congress for the Health Center program and credit their strong support to their direct interaction with Health Centers ‘back home.’ Both members regularly visit health centers and are Co-Chairs of the Community Health Center Caucus in the House and Senate.”
“It’s important to remember that just having an elected official take a tour of the center isn’t always enough to help them truly understand the impact your center has in your community,” she continued. “As a former PCA staffer, I’ve been fortunate to participate in numerous Health Center events with elected officials. Successful events have a couple of common characteristics – members are given time to interact with patients, staff and Board Members and are offered the opportunity to play an active role in the Health Center event. This can be accomplished by setting aside some “quiet time” for them to meet with Board of Directors to discuss issues impacting the Health Center and patients. Or if you are having a health fair or community event put them to work. Let them be a judge in your children’s art contest, assist with food preparation or ask them to help handout school supplies or other items to your patients.”
“Remember, elected officials work hard and also need to have a little bit of fun,” said Eubank. “NHCW is a joyous occasion. Let your member be a part of the celebration and play an active role in your NHCW event this year. You will be amazed at how grateful they will be for being included and how impactful these visits can be in cultivating and strengthening relationships on the ground. A well planned visit can turn your Congressional member from a health center supporter into a health center champion.”
As noted by Eubank,the presence of elected officials at Health Centers during National Health Center Week is an extraordinary opportunity. Done well, these visits can lay the groundwork for new relationships with Members of Congress who have little or no history with your Health Center and further strengthen existing connections.
Once confirmed, please let us know about these Congressional visits by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to post your events on the National Health Center Week website Again, be sure to deliver your signed Access is the Answer petitions and letters of Health Center support from elected officials and community supporters at these meetings. For additional resources, including how to communicate effectively and build a relationship with your elected official, check out the Working with Elected Officials page on the Campaign for America’s Health Centers website.