Creating a Culture of Advocacy

Guest blog post by Sarah Noonan Davis, Deputy Director, Westside Family Healthcare, in Wilmington, Delaware

Engaging health center staff in advocacy can pose to be very challenging for a variety of reasons, mainly due to the fact that health center staff are so busy with patient care and are already very stretched for time, it is difficult to get their attention. Getting staff (and patients) involved in advocacy is CRITICAL, especially during this time of economic uncertainty where the stakes for our health centers and patients are very high. A perfect example of the success of our advocacy program at Westside Family Healthcare happened just this past week on one of the most significant days in our nation’s history: the day the Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The media was at our doorstep within minutes of the ruling’s reading and we were ready for comment. As I walked a reporter and photographer from our state paper around our health center, I mentioned to staff that we were responding to the ruling and taking quotes. Our staff, at all levels, were enthusiastic about the ruling (high 5’s ensued!), were fully aware of what was at stake for our health center and our patients, and showed me that we have truly created a culture of advocacy.

So you may be thinking, how was this done? One thing you should remember is that all health center staff really do want to advocate for our centers and our patients as evidenced by the fact that they live and breathe our mission every day. However, they need the tools in order to do so, which includes leadership showing their confidence in staff, empowering them to make that call or send that email. Below you will find some tips and ideas from our current campaign that we are running, which is in an effort to get 100% staff participation on all NACHC advocacy actions moving forward.

– Communicate often: This is the only way that you will gain the support of your full staff. Every time that NACHC sends an advocacy alert I send it to our staff through an email blast. Whenever we have an all-staff meeting, I take 5-10 minutes to provide an advocacy update and answer questions. We have a staff of over 200 people so it is difficult to get us all together and I take every opportunity that I can to provide an update to keep them engaged. Petitions are ALWAYS out at our health centers so that patients and staff can sign-on to show their support for health centers, this also acts as a constant reminder that our advocacy work is continuous. We also utilize social media to continuously blog on advocacy efforts and calls to action. I am amazed at how many of our staff “like” our advocacy postings and are actually reading them on their personal time!

– Make it fun! (and include pizza): Recently we kicked off an advocacy campaign in an effort to get 100% of our staff registered in the NACHC grassroots advocacy center on This way staff will receive the advocacy alerts directly and feel more so a part of the movement. We have seven offices so we created a friendly competition between them: offices with a 100% sign-up rate receive a pizza party courtesy of our President & CEO! The folks at NACHC were more than happy to assist me with this campaign by providing me with a list of all advocates listed under our health center’s name. This campaign is still underway but in my next post I will update you on the outcome.

– Encourage leadership: When advocacy alerts and calls to action are posted, despite the fact that our friends at NACHC do a tremendous job of summarizing the information so that it is simple and succinct, things can still seem quite complex. Since I am only one person and we have over 200 staff members I decided that it would be good to have leaders on the ground at each site to answer questions when these alerts and calls to action arise, but also to act as “cheerleaders” encouraging staff to take action. In selecting these leaders I opened the opportunity up to all staff members and received an overwhelming response. For our advocacy leads we have a diverse mix of providers, nurses, and support staff, all very enthusiastic about the cause. We are still forming the group but our first step will be to hold a brief conference call to orient the leaders and discuss our team’s processes. When an action item arises, our group will jump into action and hold a brief call so that I can explain the issue to the leads before I send an alert to our full staff. Our staff will be aware of who their advocacy lead is at their site and the leads will check in with staff throughout the day to ensure that they received the advocacy alert, understand the call to action, and field any questions that they may have. This effort is still in its early stages but similar to with the advocacy campaign, I will update you on our progress in my next blog post.

Our next initiative and the topic of my next posting will be engaging patients. Our goal is to kick-off a voter registration campaign during National Health Center Week in an effort to spread this culture of advocacy to our patients. We have already made great strides in doing so through the petitions and our Facebook postings. Stay tuned!

–Sarah Noonan Davis

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