Earlier this week, 16 members of America’s Essential Hospitals from states across the Southeast met at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta for our first Southeast Regional Strategy Meeting. The meeting covered how to engage candidates and incumbents this election season: direct lobbying, effective communication, and citizen advocacy.

Using general advocacy tools can be especially challenging in the Southeast, though. It’s the most conservative region of the country – Republicans control 65 out of 84 congressional districts. And, to point out the obvious, when it comes to health care, Republicans have focused their rhetoric on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a result, it’s difficult for Republicans to move forward with any health care proposals – short of repeal – related to the law.

 

This political context is, to say the least, complicated, especially for essential hospitals in the region.

To add another layer of complexity, many essential hospitals in the Southeast are located in urban, liberal areas. Of the members of America’s Essential Hospitals and the Georgia Safety Net Coalition in the region, 10 are located in Republican held districts, nine are in Democratic districts, and four are located in zip codes that are divided between Democrats and Republicans. So, many essential hospitals are challenged with maintaining relationships with very diverse delegations with strongly opposing interests in health care.

In light of this, members spent a significant amount of time during the Southeast Regional Strategy Meeting sharing ideas about how to tailor these advocacy tools to this difficult environment. They identified ways to effectively lobby and communicate with their diverse delegations. Some of the strategies they identified were:

  • illustrating how their community really can’t live without its essential hospital
  • explaining that essential hospitals still need vital funding resources to carry out their missions of caring for the most vulnerable, even with coverage expansion under the ACA
  • highlighting the improved outcomes patients are seeing because of continued quality improvement at essential hospitals

They also identified ways to engage in citizen advocacy, which, in many ways, is most important.

Members discussed how they can let their hospitals speak for themselves – through the people who’s lives are profoundly affected by the hospital. People like the patients who receive life-saving trauma care after a car accident and business leaders who can count on a healthy workforce because the hospital is there to care for their employees. These stories are often the starting point for important conversations with policymakers that break through political barriers.

 

We look forward to seeing the impact that these strategies will have this election season in the Southeast and across the country!

We also look forward to similar regional strategy meetings to explore the unique political contexts other members are working in.

For more information about how to engage this fall, see our forthcoming 2014 Election Advocacy Toolkit, which will include many of the strategies and tips discussed at the Southeast Regional Strategy Meeting.