Tina Sopiwnik: October 2016 Outstanding Advocate

The NtinaACHC advocacy team is excited to announce the Outstanding Advocate for October 2016, Tina Sopiwnik, Dentist and Advocacy Director at NorthLakes Community Clinic in Wisconsin. Tina’s innovation in advocacy and commitment to engaging as many people as possible in the process is one of many reasons she’s in the spotlight this month.

Tina has been part of the Health Center movement her entire career—after graduating from Tufts University Dental School with a National Health Service Corps scholarship, she found that her work with Community Health Centers was “more than payback for a loan.” She spent three years at Sunshine Community Health Center in Talkeetna, Alaska before moving back to her home state of Wisconsin to be the dental director of what was then The Lakes Community Health Center in Ashland, WI (now NorthLakes Community Clinic, which serves six communities in northern Wisconsin). In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she has also become the advocacy director, and was a participant in NACHC’s Advocacy Leadership Program (ALP) this past year.

After returning home from the P&I last March, Tina set to work building on NorthLakes’ already strong advocacy program. She and her other colleagues who comprise the advocacy team worked to put together a work plan that provides a solid framework for their advocacy activities. One of the highlights of the plan is to actively engage providers (who have an incredibly important and unique voice and perspective as Health Center advocates!) in telling their stories, as well as the stories of their patients. NorthLakes’ providers and other staff, are incredibly passionate about their work, and Tina found they would often stay after hours discussing and “brainstorming ideas that could not only help… individual patients, but our entire community.” These informal conversations led to what is referred to during a March ALP workshop as a BHAG (big, hair, advocacy goal): the Big Ideas Breakfast. These morning meetings (and subsequent Facebook group) began as an opportunity for colleagues to get together and chat about health care news and other ideas for the organization, but have grown exponentially and are now a community-wide conversation. The Big Ideas Breakfast now has a counterpart, the Big Ideas Happy Hour, and both the meetings and Facebook group are no longer open only to NorthLakes staff. Tina is even finding that people who haven’t previously been interested in policy and advocacy are excited about the group and want to get involved. Building this important advocacy program further, Tina has also begun bringing community partnerships into the equation by working with a local small business to host the Big Ideas events. Tina sees the ultimate goal of these gatherings as “continued awareness, collaboration, and sharing ideas with our community and health center. We are still new and informal but I can see “Big Ideas” supporting the culture of trust and community collaboration leading to grassroots advocacy.”

NorthLakes CEO Reba Rice cannot say enough good things about Tina and all of her efforts on advocacy. “Dr. Tina has come up with dozens of wonderful big and small ways to encourage staff, patients and legislators to learn more about what makes health centers special, why our model makes a difference, and the importance of our unique attention to the social as well as clinical determinants of health. She is so compelling, no one can resist her!”

Eventually, the Big Ideas group(s) will move from conversation to action—but it’s important to remember that all big ideas start small, and no matter the size of your Health Center or availability of resources, every organization can (and should) participate in advocacy in some way. If you or someone at your Health Center would like to get involved with advocacy but aren’t sure where to start, don’t hesitate to contact the NACHC advocacy team at grassroots@nachc.com. We can help you create an advocacy program that works for both your center and your community.

Kudos to Tina for being this month’s Outstanding Advocate—thanks for all you do, and keep those big ideas coming!

Do you know an Outstanding Advocate who deserves this recognition? Let us know! Email Elizabeth Kwasnik at ekwasnik@nachc.org.

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