Advocacy Alert

Urge Your Lawmakers to Support Essential Health System Designation

Featured FAN: Bill Ryan

Emily Schweich
September 7, 2021

Relationships Matter: A Conversation with Einstein Healthcare Network’s Bill Ryan

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 Bill Ryan, vice president of government relations and public affairs for Einstein Healthcare Network, in Philadelphia, about the value of association membership and building relationships with legislative staff.

After the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this spring, infrastructure is dominating the political landscape. Can you talk about Einstein’s advocacy in this space and how you are framing your system’s needs in this crowded area?

As we speak with our legislative friends and staff, we remind them that as an essential hospital that provides care to a high public-payor population, we do not have the ability or flexibility to build using cash reserves, and we certainly don’t have the flexibility to modernize our existing facilities or build out of savings.

We remind legislators that because our financial investments are targeted toward the patients [and] making sure services are available, it is sometimes difficult to really reinvest and update your facilities. We’ve reached out to them and said, “We need your help and support in doing this.” And that’s just on the physical infrastructure. That doesn’t include the technology. These are investments we need to continue, and that’s what we press for.

As Congress works on priorities outside the COVID-19 relief and recovery space, how has your advocacy changed, or has it? Is further COVID-19 relief still a priority for your system, and how are you balancing those needs with other priorities, including infrastructure and mental and behavioral health?

In Pennsylvania, we do not have a public health system. We are the largest state in the nation that doesn’t have one. Institutions like Einstein and [Temple University Health System], are the public health system and Philadelphia is the largest city in the country without one. We are one of the poorest cities in the country. We need additional resources, whether it’s on the state or the federal level.

We’re always talking to our legislative friends. COVID just made those conversations different. It didn’t mean the conversations stopped, it meant that we actually were using technologies like Teams and Zoom. It meant that we spent a lot of time talking on the phone. It was amazing. I didn’t recognize that some of my congressional friends actually had our cellphone numbers programmed. They would check in. Some of the elected officials would call just to see how things were going.

COVID highlighted the value our community leaders had for institutions like Einstein; it also highlighted the importance of maintaining those relationships, which we’ve always done.

America’s Essential Hospitals has been working to ensure the needs of the health care safety net are prioritized in upcoming infrastructure legislation. As an active association member, can you expand on how trade associations like ours supplement Einstein’s advocacy on Capitol Hill? What are the main benefits of working with advocacy organizations like ours?

You are all really smart and make me look good. [laughs] Look, America’s Essential Hospitals does a lot of the research that helps us understand [the bigger picture]. Those of us on the front lines at the state and city levels, we tend to think that the sun rises and sets here from wherever we sit. It doesn’t, and it helps having an understanding as to what other facilities, what other states are facing.

You also provide credibility. We don’t always have relationships with members [of Congress] that are in positions that benefit the essential hospital community. By being a member of an association, we get the benefit of the relationships others have. It is our job to make sure that, as policies are rolled out, we remind local people that you can’t just write a blanket policy because this is the best way it works in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, or New Jersey. Because what may work in Pennsylvania may not work in Missouri, and we sometimes don’t recognize the differences between states.

But by being part of an association, we are able to at least have conversations with colleagues from other states and health systems. It brings some commonality. It brings us the information we need to know there is a greater good, and how can we achieve it on a national level. And what are we doing in Pennsylvania that others can learn from? What are they doing in other states those of us in Pennsylvania can learn from?

You have significant experience and expertise in the hospital advocacy space, including more than 15 years at Einstein alone. Some of our FANs are new to their systems or to government relations responsibilities writ large. What advice do you have for our folks who are newer and still working to build their reach and influence at the federal level? Are there things you wish you knew when you were first starting out; any best practices to share?

Relationships matter. I believe it is the most important thing. I’ve always practiced it, and understand that you don’t burn bridges. For example, one of our senators had a staffer who left to become a legislative director for another member who serves on a key health care committee, and we had a senate state director who now works in the White House. Because of these relationships, we were able to get a meeting with key administration staff when Pennsylvania had a specific issue.

When I first went into Harrisburg on the state level, I started telling folks, “I don’t care what your health care issue is. If you have an issue in health care, just call me.” Whether it was having a constituent sitting in the emergency room, taking too long; needing to get a doctor’s appointment, whatever. Even if it wasn’t for our system, I wanted them in their mind to think, “There’s a health issue, better call that crazy guy Ryan.”

And that’s where the success has happened. Because by doing that every time something happens, they’re going to reach out. Even when it’s not in our system. You develop a better relationship for their personal lives, their friends, their family members, which then translates into either votes or support that you’re looking for, or just the fact that you’ve been able to help somebody in an arena that they’re most vulnerable.

That’s my suggestion to folks. Understanding the value of relationships, understanding that the staff person you are working with may not stay at that office. They may go to another office that will be in a higher profile or more important role that you need, or some get elected to office. Which is why I always tried to make people understand the value of your state relationships, those state legislators. They tend to be the farm team for your federal officials.

Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA) and I have a longtime relationship because he was a member of the Pennsylvania House for 20-some years. He goes into Congress, the first person he’s calling is us. One, because he used to work for Einstein. Second, because he understands the value of what Einstein provides to his community and constituents.

Today, we have a situation, where every member of the local government calls when they need to get COVID tested. For example, they call and say, “The president of the United States is coming to town. White House protocol says you need to be tested within 24 hours.” Because of our relationships, who do you think they’re calling? And because you’re helping them, when you need something, they may be there for you. For example, when I was screaming because we didn’t have enough PPE [personal protective equipment], and we were on the verge of our staff being told they would have to wear trash bags, I had members of the Pennsylvania delegation picking up the phone, calling the governor’s office saying, “What the heck’s going on in Philadelphia? Get this stuff to Einstein.”

Is there anything else you wish we had asked you, or anything else you’d like to share?

Yeah. Why we became members of America’s Essential Hospitals, and why I’ve encouraged members of our leadership team to be part of essential hospitals. I’m proud that Einstein’s CEO Barry Freedman did a term on your board, and I’m hoping other Einstein leaders will do so in the future. Because what America’s Essential Hospitals does is focus on what those in need the most. What you do is you help people like me advocate for populations that Einstein treats and cares about. There is value to what essential hospitals do. I’m honored to be a part of it. I’m happy we’re members, and I look forward to long, long relationships. You all provide great work, and you have great leadership.

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