Guest Columns

Learn how to advocate in D.C.

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Tara Roberts
Tara Roberts

I'm sure you have heard these old but wise sayings, such as “The early bird gets the worm,” ”Fortune favors the brave” and “It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease…”

I propose a new one: ”The experts who advocate help legislate.”  

I've had the pleasure and really honor of participating in advocacy in a variety ways in the last 10 years specifically in the long term care space encompassing reimbursement, regulatory burden, access to therapy services and fair auditing practices. I was drawn to the “mystique” of D.C. and Capitol Hill. I wanted to understand “how things work.”

Fortunately, I work for a company that is one of the most active advocates in the sector with leadership, where people were willing to mentor me and afford me the opportunity to unravel the mystery of our federal government and policy making. This opportunity to advocate coupled with my passion to fight for the underdog and the desire to set things straight ultimately set the stage for Mrs. Roberts Goes to Washington.

Every time I visit D.C. and Capitol Hill, I am no less in awe and am no less surprised by how effective a single person with a story, passion and a few statistics can be of influence and eventually after repetition a reliable resource to those who legislate. If I've heard once, I've heard a thousand times, “Can you put exactly what you need the bill to say in writing so that we can ensure the people you care for are protected and your industry is supported in this legislation?” Boy, hearing that never get old! In fact every time I find myself saying, “Wow, they just asked me to help write legislation? Well aren't they smart to ask those of us who are actually in the weeds and on the ground to write what we need.”

Of course I've also learned that young, very young and quite brilliant (did I mention young?) people are writing the laws, advising the legislators, designing and redesigning policy and ultimately may be more important to meet with than with the actual Congressman or Senator. I've learned to collect business cards, ask the name of and thank the even younger person at the front desk. These people may eventually be healthcare aides for a most powerful legislator in a few years, or may themselves be a future legislator. I've learned that they DO want to hear from me as a clinician. I am the expert in my field about what happens to their constituents if laws are written this way or that way. Finally, I've learned that most of the time legislators, no matter Democratic or Republican, DO actually work together and DO care about striking the right balance.

The reward of visiting and advocating doesn't stop in D.C. When I return I get to share with my coworkers and residents that we care enough to take our/their message to Capitol Hill, I say I told their stories and our legislators listened. At Sunday dinner I get to share with my family that I've made a difference and enjoy answering all their questions about my experience. Undoubtedly, someone at the table is always going to tease me and ask if I met the President, but my response is always the same: ”He didn't need to meet with me because I met with those that mattered most in helping those I'm helping most.”

A lasting effect of advocacy in D.C. is that I focus on maintaining a line of communication with my representatives in D.C. They DO read your emails. They DO respond to your emails. They DO want to meet in you D.C.  

Don't know where to start? Google your Senator or Representative and send them a “Hello” email and share with them what you want them to do for you and your residents. Offer yourself as an expert in your field. See if you can get to D.C. Make an appointment, or if you're there on other business, drop in and say hello. You may just be surprised how you are accommodated, and I know for sure you will surprise yourself.  And remember, as Mrs. Roberts says, “Be the expert that advocates to help legislate.”

Tara Roberts, PT, is the corporate director of rehabilitation and wound care services at Nexion Health Management, Inc.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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