I Am An Advocate and I Am Ready to Take Action on Behalf of Health Centers

by Dana Lawrence, Communications Manager, Michigan Primary Care Association

During the Tele-Town Hall hosted by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) on May 10, Tom Van Coverden, Dan Hawkins, and Marc Wetherhorn ignited a new sense of advocacy in me.  As a communications manager for the Michigan Primary Care Association (MPCA), one of my responsibilities is advocacy.  I help educate people about the importance of making their voice heard by their elected officials, I urge them to respond to calls to action, and I report on happenings in the MPCA e-Update and on MPCA’s Facebook page, Twitter stream, blog, and website.  For me, advocacy is a part of my daily routine.

In my eight years at MPCA, the Health Centers program has experienced tremendous bi-partisan support at the federal level.  I’ve watched the number of Health Centers and Health Center patients increase, and the funding come rolling in to expand access to care.  I guess you could say I came to expect it to continue.  Why wouldn’t Congress invest in a program that saves the health care system money, provides access to quality primary and preventive health care for millions of people in need, and  helps keep communities healthy?  I took the support for granted.

That was before.  Now I understand the real threat to Health Center and Medicaid funding that looms.  While the ramifications of the fiscal year 2011 budget cuts are still unfolding, the battle for fiscal year 2012 funding is heating up. I can’t emphasize enough how absolutely critical it is that every Health Center advocate communicate the effectiveness, cost-savings, and value of their Health Center. As Dan Hawkins said in closing the Tele-Town Hall, “All that we have achieved could easily be thrown into the abyss if we don’t act to preserve it.  Our future is in our hands, no one else’s.  We all MUST act.”

Health Center board members, staff, and patients must come together to create one loud, strong voice that gives testament to the benefits of Health Centers.  Health Centers must reach out to their community partners and ask them to advocate for something that’s critically important to the health and well-being of their community – the local Health Center.

Over 23 million people in 8,000 communities across the country call a Health Center their health care home, a source of reliable, affordable, accessible health care that keeps them healthy.  Unfortunately 60 million people in this country still lack access to care because they are medically disenfranchised. Health Centers are ready, willing, and able to care for them, too.  With just $200 million in additional discretionary funding next year, the doors of 200 new Health Centers could open in communities desperately in need of an affordable, quality health care provider, and an additional 3 million people could have access to care they can afford at a Health Center.

Here’s what YOU can do to help make that reality:

Take action!  Click here to contact your U.S. Representative and ask him/her to submit, by May 20, a programmatic request to the House Appropriations Committee for the Health Centers program.  This is the first of many opportunities for you to take action in the months to come, so stay tuned.

Recruit more advocates!  The more people who send the same message to Congress, the more likely the message will be heard.  Encourage your colleagues, friends, family, and community members to become active Health Center advocates by signing up with NACHC and MPCA here.

Stay informed!  Learn all you can about the proposed FY 2012 budget and its potential impact on Health Centers.  Visit NACHC’s website for tools and information you need to stay up-to-date on Health Centers and Medicaid.  Sign up to receive the Washington Update from NACHC, and sign up to receive the e-Update from MPCA.

Share your story!  If pictures tell a thousand words, stories tell a million words.  Personal stories from patients, clinicians, and board members bring the day-to-day work of Health Centers to life.  Submit stories at NACHC’s new online “CHC Stories” webpage.

Educate your elected officials!  Elected officials rely on their constituents to keep them informed about issues they should care about.  Visit them in their district office when they are home on recess.  Invite them to your Health Center to witness how it is benefitting their home community, such as during National Health Center Week (August 7-13).  Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  Attend town hall meetings they host.

Share your knowledge!  Share what you know with others so they, too, can make their voice heard and strengthen the Health Center message.

Share your efforts!  Email dlawrence@mpca.net to let us know at MPCA what you are doing to advocate on behalf of Health Centers.  Have you confirmed a visit with an elected official?  Are your plans for National Health Center Week underway?  We want to hear from you!

The decisions that are made in the coming months will impact Health Centers for years to come.  The time to act is NOW!


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