Communication is Key: A Conversation with Allison Poulios
Each quarter, we feature a Federal Action Network (FAN) member leading the charge on Capitol Hill to protect essential hospitals.
This quarter, we spoke with Allison Poulios, MPA, senior vice president and chief government relations officer at The MetroHealth System, in Cleveland, about how her previous role as legislative director and chief of staff for Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) prepared her for hospital advocacy, what makes MetroHealth unique, and how she balances her policy priorities.
Tell us about The MetroHealth System and your role as senior vice president and chief government relations officer. What makes your system unique?
I oversee the system’s federal, state, and local government relations strategy. Like a lot of [essential hospitals], we [have] lean but mighty teams, especially as a county public hospital. We work very closely with our county elected officials and community partners, but also with all elected officials at the state and federal levels.
As the chief government relations officer, I make sure that our advocacy aligns with our leadership’s and board’s priorities and that we are all rowing in the same direction.
The industry continues to face challenges, so it is really important that there is an open line of communication [about] what is happening in Washington, D.C., so we can relay that information to our leadership. In a leadership role at MetroHealth, I advocate for various initiatives that are our priorities in the public policy arena with federal policymakers.
What makes MetroHealth unique is our mission, our people [who] work for MetroHealth, and the patients we serve. Our professionals on the front lines are an inspiration for me every day. They are so passionate about their work and are subject matter experts in their various fields. I just did a congressional visit this morning with a staffer, and it was such an awesome reminder of the amazing work we are doing for our patients and in our community.
We are Northeast Ohio’s safety net hospital. We provide essential services to all members of the community, as well as train the next generation of the safety net workforce. We are integrated in the community, and care about all aspects of our patients’ lives as well as the communities that we serve. We focus on addressing those issues that are going to really help raise up the health and wealth of people in our community and our neighborhood.
You served as a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 10 years. Can you talk about how your experiences in Washington, D.C., with Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) have shaped your work at MetroHealth?
I worked for Congressman Latta, both at the Ohio Statehouse, when he was in the Ohio Senate, and the Ohio House of Representatives, and then again on Capitol Hill. My passion was always health care policy. I was the congressman’s legislative director for almost eight years, and I also handled the health care policy portfolio. He was appointed to the [House Committee on] Energy and Commerce in 2010, after the Affordable Care Act became law. It was such an amazing experience to get to work on health care policy firsthand through the Energy and Commerce Committee that has such broad jurisdiction over health care issues, as well as for such a great Member who served on the committee.
During my time working on health care policy, the congressman also served on the [Subcommittee on] Health for a time. It was such a great opportunity to work with all sectors of health care across Ohio. It wasn’t just organizations in his district at the time; I think he was the only Ohioan on the committee. So, we represented his constituents and his district, and then, also, all health systems and health entities across the state. My first exposure to MetroHealth was when I was working on those issues for the Energy and Commerce Committee. This Hill experience really helped cement in my mind that whatever was next in my career, I wanted to work on health care policy. I wanted to help people. That’s why I’ve always been drawn to health care policy.
What are one or two takeaways from your time as a Hill staffer that stand out the most?
It’s complicated. There’s a lot of very important interests within health care. They all serve a role. Everyone’s trying to do good for the patient. That’s hard as a policymaker. You have to listen to all sides and listen to your constituents. It can get complicated, and a lot of health care is personal. So, we need to help the Hill staffers and those members who serve on key committees to really understand where we’re coming from on different issues and why it matters to their constituents.
What are the MetroHealth System’s top advocacy and policy priorities at the federal level? How do these priorities align with the health system’s mission to serve the community?
They do align because a lot of them relate to our financial health. If we are not financially healthy, we are not able to serve our patients and serve the community. As a safety net hospital, we will always have very thin margins. Right now, we are facing tremendous financial headwinds with workforce issues. Post–COVID-19, it’s a challenging time. The Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payment cuts that we could be facing would have a tremendous negative impact on MetroHealth. Preventing this cut is one of our top priorities at the federal level.
Another top priority is protecting our 340B Drug Pricing Program benefit. The program is extremely important to our patients and the community we serve. We have worked on the issues that have already percolated in this Congress in relation to 340B in some different pieces of legislation. This is an area that we are very active in, and we continue to educate policymakers on its importance to MetroHealth and our patients.
Another priority is securing a federal designation of safety net hospitals, which will highlight our importance and how we are different than other hospitals.
Finally, there’s [the health care] workforce, which I know is a challenge for many industries, but for us, it’s a very serious issue. There has to be a cross-governmental approach, and unfortunately there is no silver bullet.
How do you all prioritize the varying needs that you all have? What advice do you have for other hospitals for prioritizing many asks and needs at the federal, state, local level?
Like us, I think a lot of other hospital systems have members of the team who are dedicated to certain areas. I believe that is helpful. I think so much of it often comes to: [If] we are not financially viable, then our mission will not be advanced. We prioritize initiatives that have the biggest impact on our mission, and therefore on the patients we serve. We are focused on pursuing public policies that will address health disparities in our neighborhoods and close the death gap. Advancing a coordinated and resourced program that addresses the social drivers of health is a great example of that focus right now. When looking at various priorities, we consider how we can work with our various partners and stakeholders to make the most impact in the community.
Tell us about your advocacy work to achieve those priorities. How do you work with not only policymakers but also community groups, organizations, and stakeholders, such as America’s Essential Hospitals, to shape health care policies that directly affect the Cleveland community and the health system itself?
One of the key things that we have tried to do and really focus on is getting some of our key leaders from the hospital, people who are experts in their fields, in front of policymakers. The more we can get our folks involved with America’s Essential Hospitals or [with] other associations, different committees, or work groups to have a voice, [the more we can] shape policy at the federal level and help our community and our patients. We try [to involve] not just our government relations team, but also the subject matter experts from across the institution who are able to speak and add great insights from their specific area.
Cleveland has its own distinct health care landscape and challenges. Could you elaborate on how The MetroHealth System tailors its advocacy strategies to target the specific health care policy requirements and opportunities within your community?
Cleveland is so fortunate to have world-class health care institutions. As a safety net hospital serving Northeast Ohio, we serve everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Our patient population is about 75 percent publicly insured, and so we rely heavily on government payers. We are different. We are the safety net hospital, so our advocacy priorities differ from those of other institutions because of our mission and our goals, and again, because of the patients that we serve. I would say sometimes our priorities overlap with the other systems in Northeast Ohio, and when they do, we certainly work collaboratively with them, as well as with health systems across the state.
Relationships, relationships, relationships. It’s just so important to keep in touch with your state’s Congressional delegation and their staffs and with your associations because they are representing you and advocating for you as well.
Allison Poulios, MPA
Senior Vice President and Chief Government Relations Officer
The MetroHealth System