On one the most powerful tools that the Access is the Answer campaign employs is the collection of letters support from local elected officials and community supporters. Presented in person to Members of Congress during National Health Center Week when these federal elected officials often visit Health Centers in their districts, these letters of support strongly make the case that community leaders – from mayors to school board members, hospital administrators to religious leaders – stand behind Health Centers and are unified in their call for Congress and the President act to fix the Health Center funding cliff.
So far, Health Centers have gathered approximately 1300 letters of support from local elected officials and community leaders. Many Health Centers far exceeded the initial request to collect 5 letters of support from local elected officials and 10 from community supporters. What were some of the keys to their success?
For the Lorain County Health & Dentistry Health Centers in Ohio, “Advocacy is part of our culture and we take our advocacy responsibilities very seriously,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Wiersma. Lorain County Health & Dentistry Health Centers, which collected 60 local support letters, “reached out to leaders who recognize and value our centers’ role in providing high-quality, accessible care to the community,” noted Wiersma. “We made a conscious effort to craft our requests for written support in a way that efficiently summarized why Health Centers are so important and why we need our elected officials and community supporters. We asked these individuals to print up the letter on their own stationery and then followed up with them on three separate occasions.” Said Wiersma, “ultimately we’re only as good as we can be if we’re responsive and attentive to the current and future needs of our Health Centers.”
Avein Saaty-Tafoya, Chief Executive Officer of Adelante Healthcare in Arizona – which gathered 28 letters – noted that “the Adelante Healthcare board of directors and leadership team/staff were highly engaged and motivated to contact all our partner organizations and elected officials to sign letters of support for Health Center funding. The inspiration behind our success in this effort was Dr. Gary Cloud, Dean of Advancement at AT Still University/SOMA and a co-founder of both the School of Osteopathic Medicine Western Clinicians Network. Dr. Cloud is a self-described ‘Health Center zealot’ and happens to serve on the board of Adelante and chairs the advocacy committee. Together we have shared the NACHC message so that we can secure funding and continue to serve the needs of our communities.”
Sea Mar Community Health Centers in Washington state topped the list by collecting a total of 116 letters. Kristina Hoeschen, Administrative Services Director noted that “both the CEO and Deputy Director at Sea Mar have made advocacy a priority.” Health Center leadership issued a challenge to managers in each of the 10 counties it serves to collect 10 letters of support within a month. “Our clinics are deeply plugged in to their communities and many have cultivated strong relationships therein. As a result, we found elected officials and community supporters were quite responsive to our letter requests.” Furthermore, Sea Mar’s leadership stayed engaged throughout their month long campaign “and, following up on reminders from NACHC, urged clinics to keep up the effort on a regular basis.”
For Angie Boyles, ACA Outreach and Enrollment Coordinator for the Low Country Health Care System in South Carolina, the tight knit nature of her rural community proved to be a strength in gathering 49 letters of support from local elected officials and community leaders. “With the support of the Health Center management, I did a lot of outreach. I first contacted individuals via email, making the case for Health Centers and explaining the upcoming funding cliff, and then followed up with face-to-face visits.” In many cases, these individuals knew Angie personally, had personal connections with Low County Health Care via friends and family or were patients themselves. In many ways, Low Country Health Care System – one of the few providers in the area – “is the bedrock of the community and people responded to our request for letters of support generously.”
Four different Health Centers, four different stories. But, at each, there were dedicated advocates who are willing to sometimes get out their comfort zone and reach out to community supporters and their elected leaders. Moreover, these advocates were backed-up by Health Center leadership that is committed to a culture of advocacy.
Until the cliff is fixed, the effort to collect letters of support is ongoing. Make it a point at your Health Center to collect 10 letters of support from local elected leaders and 5 from community supporters and then personally deliver them to your elected officials during National Health Center Week (August 10 -16) and MAKE THE CASE for Health Centers. THIS IS A CRITICAL ACTION STEP AND AN ACHIEVABLE GOAL! Once collected, please be sure to report your results using the campaign report form or by emailing us at email@example.com.
Only by bringing together the support of Health Center advocates, local elected officials, and community supporters will we be able to send the unmistakable message to the President and the Congress that EVERYONE is paying attention and that this issue is too important to ignore. They must act NOW to fix the funding cliff and ensure that Health Centers receive the funding and resources needed to continue providing high quality care for communities in need throughout the nation.