• Article
  • April 27, 2018

Childrens Hospitals Engage Employees and Communities in Public Policy

From letter-writing events to advocacy days, employees and community members can get involved.

By Matthew Wright

While walking to the parking lot after work last February, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford resident Jennifer DeCoste-Lopez, M.D., approached fellow resident Lee Trope, M.D. "Can we talk about what the heck is going on in the world?" she asked. DeCoste-Lopez was referring to the proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid, and proposed immigration policy changes. "This is crazy," she said. "Everything that's going on is threatening our patients. What can we do?"

This inspired the two residents to coordinate with the hospital's pediatric advocacy program director, government relations team and American Academy of Pediatrics representative to launch a coalition of pediatric advocates. The group has two goals: organize the hospital's professional community to advocate for children; and educate future pediatricians on policy issues affecting patients.

The coalition's activities include meetings with policymakers, postcard-writing campaigns directed to elected officials, speaking at town halls held by members of Congress, and curating a story bank to highlight the real-life effect of legislative proposals.

When constituents contact their legislators, they can have a big influence on them. Research from The OpenGov Foundation finds the most valued constituent communications are authentic and demonstrate effort through storytelling. Children's hospitals across the country are taking on efforts to ensure constituent voices are heard on issues that matter most to kids.

Generating engagement

Throughout 2017, leaders at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, held forums to listen to employees who were eager to learn more about legislation that might affect their hospital and patients. "It was born from a renewed interest in the political process playing out across the country," says Heather Ulrey, administrative director for external and government relations.

To mobilize in the moment, the hospital focused Medicaid advocacy efforts on organizing more than 12,000 employees, 77,000 national donors and 408,000 consumers. CEO Steve Allen also authored several thought leadership articles that generated media coverage. Nationwide achieved 11 different media placements reaching an audience of over 160 million people.

"Advocacy is an effective tool for engaging staff, donors and general consumers," says Donna Teach, chief marketing and communications officer at Nationwide. "We were pleased and surprised by the high levels of engagement—especially from donors." The hospital generated more than 1,800 legislative contacts among its national donor base. Its Facebook community was engaged with nearly 6,000 legislative contacts generated through just two optimized posts.

Teach says cooperation among the hospital's government relations team, foundation and marketing teams was essential. "We received little negative reaction from asking groups to advocate for children's health," she says. "It was a great learning experience, and we are encouraged to engage in future efforts."

Organized events

Child Health Champions is Children's Hospital Colorado's state advocacy network, which includes 6,600 Colorado residents and others who reside in the hospital's seven-state region. This network leverages the voices of physicians, health care professionals, patients and families with business leaders and community members to speak up for kids when public policy is being considered. The hospital engages the network throughout the year by sending regular updates about its public policy priorities and asking constituents to call or email lawmakers when appropriate.

Last year, the hospital organized four postcard-writing events at its campuses across the state. These events generated 1,600 handwritten postcards that were hand-delivered to U.S. Senator Cory Gardner's office, and more than 350 postcards were delivered to state lawmakers.

Lauren Gennaro, advocacy and communications specialist, says the postcard-writing events help educate hospital team members, as well as the Child Health Champions network, on the issues. "We provide them an opportunity to speak up in a unique way," she says. The advocacy team makes it easy for advocates by providing already-addressed postcards, talking points, FAQs and one-pagers.

To complement efforts of Child Health Champions, the hospital leads advocacy training events across the state. Its largest is the annual Speak Up for Kids Day at the Capitol in Denver. The event informs constituents about child policy issues and provides them with training to advocate to elected officials. "There are individuals across the state who want to learn how to be better advocates for kids." Gennaro says. "Providing these opportunities benefits them, our organization, and our state."

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.