Government relations professionals at essential hospitals face unique challenges when telling their story on Capitol Hill.
To help essential hospital leaders take their advocacy skills to the next level, America’s Essential Hospitals launched the Government Relations (GR) Academy in 2013. This nine-month program provides in-depth education on key federal legislative and regulatory issues, along with practical opportunities for participants to apply political communication strategies and launch a targeted advocacy campaign.
As the association prepares for the 2019 GR Academy, we spoke to two Government Relations Academy alumnae about their experiences in the program. Elisa Hernández, MPH, a public policy advisor at Parkland Health & Hospital System, in Dallas, participated in the GR Academy in 2017. Amy Carta, MPA, directs government affairs, public relations, and special projects at Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System, in San Jose, Calif. Carta participated in the GR Academy in 2013 and returned as a mentor in 2017.
Hernández and Carta spoke with America’s Essential Hospitals about their Academy experience and the power of storytelling in advocacy, the importance of forging a strong network, and the value of applying new advocacy tools.
What does your day-to-day advocacy look like?
Elisa Hernández, MPH: In the GR world, day-to-day activities or advocacy can vary tremendously. During the state legislative session, my efforts are focused on tracking and monitoring proposed legislation. This includes getting our Parkland experts’ views on potential legislation that can affect our operations and patients, as well as educating lawmakers and their staff on how certain legislation will affect us, either positively or negatively. In coordination with the vice president of government relations and state trade organization, we advocate for policy initiatives that promote a healthier Dallas County. During the interim, my efforts are focused on holding district meetings, hosting tours for elected officials and their staff, and ensuring implementation of passed legislation.
Amy Carta, MPA: On the day-to-day basis, advocacy work for Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System includes internal and external communication regarding support or concern regarding bills, regulations, rulemaking, and more. This communication runs from asking questions to gain an understanding of the effect of a policy to telling the story about why our request for support, opposition, or change affects the elected official’s constituents. There are always special cases, such as developing ballot measures or developing proposals for an elected official to sponsor as a bill.
What was your biggest takeaway from the Academy?
EH: The biggest takeaway was learning how to utilize communication pathways to advocate for our policy priorities and engage lawmakers. I also learned the power of the patient story. Facts and figures are always paramount in illustrating how legislation will affect our bottom line, but highlighting a patient who relies on our programs and services that could potentially be cut is just as powerful.
AC: Advocacy benefits from strategy, similar to an election campaign: Identification of an audience, key messages and messengers, as well as developing a story to serve our systems well.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your advocacy work, and how did the Government Relations Academy help you tackle that challenge?
EH: I think we may have not engaged as much with federal staff in between visits. GR Academy allowed me to enhance our federal (and state) advocacy efforts by using patient stories, clinicial experts, social media, and infographics. I became more proactive on telling our Parkland story. The GR team reached out to our federal delegation more often when critical issues were at stake.
AC: Having the time to focus on advocacy is my biggest challenge. The GR Academy provided me the space and time to think through a campaign, while also providing the tools, best practices, and consultation to make the campaign successful.
What makes advocacy for essential hospitals unique?
EH: Essential hospitals have a very human and selfless mission. We advocate for what’s in the best interest of our patients, particularly those who are underinsured and uninsured.
AC: There are a number of factors making advocacy for essential hospitals unique. Our financing is complicated, which makes it hard to provide simple answers. Many of our patients are hesitant to come forward publicly, which makes finding the incredibly valuable personal testimonial harder to obtain. The wide array of high-quality services we offer, often for large regions, serve patients from all walks of life, which frequently surprises patients and visitors. We are the “best kept secret.”
How was your experience with the GR Academy mentor program?
AC: As a mentor, I found the GR Academy a value. It provided the time and space to think about GR work without the day-to-day noise, while also introducing (or reintroducing) some best practices. Participating as a mentor allowed me to reconnect with some great colleagues across the country, as well as the America’s Essential Hospitals staff.
EH: I really loved our mentor cohort. They were truly supportive and made themselves available when questions arose. The GR Academy class was really lucky to have mentors with valuable policy and communications expertise, which was incredibly helpful when building our government relations campaign.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
AC: The GR Academy offers an incredible opportunity to learn and put things into immediate practice for advocacy. The GR Academy also offers a network of colleagues to reach out to for advice and to serve as a sounding board. I strongly recommend the GR Academy for newcomers and for those who’ve been in the business for some time. Tools need to be updated, and the Academy brings new tools and best practices to you.
Applications for the 2019 Government Relations Academy are open through Dec. 14. Contact Legislative Affairs Associate Erin Delaney at email@example.com or 202.585.0117 with questions.