Advocacy & Relationship Building- Spotlight on LifeLong Medical Care
The theme of National Health Center Week 2018 - Celebrating Health Centers: Home of America's Health Care Heroes- is meant to recognize individuals who exceed the call of duty to support health centers in providing accessible, cost-effective, and high quality health care for patients in all 50 states and territories. As we kick off this incredible week of celebration, we have designated days within the week to showcase key elements of success within the Health Center Program. Today we celebrate Legislative Appreciation Day because health centers have continuously benefited from bipartisan support on the federal and state level. Katherine S. O'Donnell, Director of Development & External Relations at LifeLong Medical Care, a federally qualified health center, shares how advocacy has helped LifeLong build relationships with elected officials.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and LifeLong Medical Care.
LifeLong Medical Care is an innovative, Federally Qualified Health Center in California serving Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin Counties with 16 health centers, four mental health service sites, three dental care centers, two dental vans, an Adult Day Health Center, four School-Based Health Centers, a Supportive Housing Program, and Immediate/Urgent Care services.
For more than 40+ years, LifeLong Medical Care has been providing high-quality medical, dental, and social services. The first health center, LifeLong Over 60 Health Center, was founded by the Gray Panthers in 1976. The Gray Panthers fashioned themselves after the Black Panthers, advocating on behalf of seniors to have the choice of aging independently at home instead of in an institution.
LifeLong continues its advocacy efforts on behalf of all ages and with an emphasis on ensuring everyone has access to health care, regardless of immigration status and/or the ability to pay.
For more information on LifeLong’s services, programs, and activities, visit: www.lifelongmedical.org.
How does LifeLong Medical Care advocate for their patients? What are the various types of advocacy efforts you engage in as a staff and community?
LifeLong Medical Care established an Advocacy Task Force group. It consists of staff, supporters, volunteers, and patients. There is constant communication about ways this group can make a difference. Writing letters and/or making phone calls to elected officials is one of the methods the Advocacy Task Group participates in.
LifeLong’s leadership is also actively involved in meeting with legislators on a consistent basis. It’s important LifeLong gets the word out about the needs within the community. Also, the actions made by elected officials can severely impact the lives of their constituents (and LifeLong’s patients), so it’s imperative everyone work together.
Are there specific activities that you would like to share regarding LifeLong’s advocacy efforts?
LifeLong Medical Care’s Board of Directors has an Advocacy Committee and adopted many different policies over the past years regarding certain key issues, including: being against Affordable Care Act’s Repeal Actions and advocating against the health center funding cliff. LifeLong’s Board Advocacy Chair keeps the Board engaged in advocacy and attends annual State Policy Day, which is sponsored by the California Primary Care Association. They, along with key senior leadership staff including: Chief Executive Officer, Deputy Director, Chief Administrative Officer, and Chief Medical Officer, also attend Policy and Issues Conference sponsored by NACHC.
When LifeLong Medical Care staff and Board members attend local meetings with elected officials, LifeLong requests a few patients participate. LifeLong has cultivated patient advocates as a part of a Patient Voice Collaborative (PVC), an advisory group that meets monthly to discuss what is working well and areas LifeLong needs to focus more on.
What positive outcomes of the advocacy efforts have you witnessed at LifeLong?
When Congress threatened to cut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or community health center funding, people not only in the industry, but those utilizing health services spoke up as well. Voices were heard loud and clear. Elected officials understood the dire situation as LifeLong Medical Care would have lost significant federal funding. It would have deeply impacted the services for those in need. This is just one example the community and elected officials worked together to make a difference for the underserved population.
For example, LifeLong Medical Care staff recently met Congressman Mike Thompson at the Policy and Issues Conference, sponsored by NACHC in Washington, DC. This allowed LifeLong the opportunity to inform the Congressman about key issues that could negatively impact the work being done within his represented community. Congressman Thompson then invited LifeLong to speak about the great work staff and Board members are accomplishing in San Francisco Bay Area Counties of: Contra Costa, Alameda, and Marin. Soon after the Policy and Issues Conference, Congressman Thompson graciously accepted an invitation to visit a few LifeLong health centers located within his district. A photo of his visit to LifeLong Pinole Health Center can be viewed below.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to advocate for their respective health center or healthcare efforts in general?
Do it, please. You might think your voice is not heard, but that’s not true. The movements we have seen people stand behind have helped shape legislation. If you, too, believe health care should be a right, not a privilege, then stand up and be a strong voice for those not able to speak up for their rights. Take charge and make a difference. It is also important to connect with elected officials at every level, including: City, Regional and State. LifeLong Medical Care, along with all the Federally Qualified Health Centers, are counting on you to shape health care for the better.
Photo caption: Congressman Mike Thompson visits LifeLong Pinole Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Pinole, California. (L to R: DL Poole, Katherine S. O’Donnell, Julia Dent, Congressman Mike Thompson, Lucinda Bazile, Brisa Mendoza, Cinthia Marquez and LifeLong’s CEO, Marty Lynch.)