Electronic tools amplify ministry's legislative advocacy

December 1, 2017


When the Children's Hospital of San Antonio hosted a news conference in October to support funding reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, it coordinated with the staff of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, to live stream the Texas Democrat and others speaking about the importance of preserving the safety-net program that covers about 9 million children nationwide.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., center, and executives of Providence St. Joseph Health give an interview in May to discuss their concerns about Affordable Care Act repeal attempts and underscore Medicaid's critical role in ensuring health care access for vulnerable people. Murray is flanked by Dr. Rhonda Medows, the system's chief population health officer, and Providence St. Joseph Health President and Chief Executive Dr. Rod Hochman. The reporter from Seattle's KING 5 News is in the right foreground.

Federal funding for CHIP expired Sept. 30; and, although the program has had longstanding bipartisan support and the House approved funding, as Catholic Health World went to press, the Senate was debating where to find the money to offset program costs going forward.

CHRISTUS streamed its news conference directly to members of the public who logged into Facebook Live on mobile devices or desktop computers to watch.

In a year when there have been multiple attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or weaken it through regulatory changes, more ministry members are employing electronic tools to rally public support to protect the legislation, and to advance other public policy positions.

On an issue of critical importance like defending the ACA, they've used electronic platforms to spread the word to system and regional executives and boards, sponsoring congregations and employees. Many missives urge people to write or call elected representatives ahead of an important vote. On narrow-gauge issues, the electronic tools allow communication to be targeted to audiences for maximum impact.

Educate and engage
Chicago-based Presence Health, with 12 hospitals and 27 long-term care facilities, uses an "advocacy hub" at advocacy.presencehealth.org to provide issue education. The site distills the system's advocacy positions down to key points and it keeps messaging clear and brief. The advocacy hub "helps everyone speak with one voice," said Angela Grover, Presence Health system director of advocacy.

The website includes a news feed, where people read the latest developments on health care public policies both nationally and in Illinois. Grover said the articles are drawn from a variety of sources, including trade association, industry publications, and local and state media. From the news feed page, people can click through to an "action center" on the same Presence Health site. Software called VoterVoice makes it easy for users to look up their legislators and send those officials communication through the site on the issue or issues they're concerned about.


Grover said the site was built by an outside consultant, The Beekeeper Group. Presence Health uses Google Analytics to track activity on the site. Since launching the hub about six months ago, the site has had 2,540 users, with more than 13,000 page views. A goal is to recruit new users and to deepen engagement with returning users.

On occasion, Presence Health may reach out to one of the subscribers to develop a "champion," a person who might be willing to testify or publicly share their story on an issue they're passionate about.

Presence Health also uses a dynamic data site, HealthViz, which Grover said was built in house. The searchable database can be used to reinforce advocacy positions. For instance, before she meets with an alderman about combatting food insecurity, Grover can pull ward-specific data and come armed with knowledge about how many of the alderman's constituents are experiencing food insecurity, she said.

Tailoring the message
Providence St. Joseph Health, based in Renton, Wash., uses a web-based platform called Phone2Action. It allows people to advocate on issues through email, social media and phone, according to Phone2-Action's website.

The system's government affairs staff, working in concert with communications and senior leadership, launched a Phone2-Action pilot in the summer in two states to fight Republican-led efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

In September, the system expanded use of the tool. Many employees and board members used it to register opposition with their legislators to the Graham-Cassidy bill. The bill would repeal and replace the ACA. Email advocacy alerts to employees on Sept. 22 and board members on Sept. 25 included a link to send tailored, prewritten messages to senators and representatives urging them to defend the ACA.

Timing was critical, because Senate rules governing the vote on Graham-Cassidy allowed it to pass with a simple majority, on or before a Sept. 30 deadline. After that, the bill would require 60 votes to pass the Senate.

Providence St. Joseph Health employees in several states used the platform to send 7,542 emails to their elected representatives over a four-day period in September when the Senate's Republican leadership was trying to muster the votes need to pass the legislation along party lines. (Ultimately, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not call the bill for a floor vote as planned in late September because it lacked the support needed for passage.)


Ali Santore, vice president of government affairs and public affairs for Providence St. Joseph Health, said regional and national board members, many of whom are influential voices in their communities, responded to the action alert by firing off 188 emails to policymakers opposing Graham-Cassidy within a two-hour period.

Santore said the system took an "all hands-on deck" approach because "we believe health care is a fundamental human right, inherent to human dignity."

Action alerts
Irving, Texas-based CHRISTUS Health informs its employees about advocacy issues using an "opt in" advocacy system. A few times a year, it asks employees to sign up to join its Action Alert system. Using advocacy management software called CapWiz, the system sends Action Alerts by email with key points on issues and a prewritten letter the recipient can sign and send to their legislators. Users also can draft their own letter on the site. With the push of a button, the letter are emailed or faxed to the person's representatives.

Employees receive the Action Alerts three or four times a year.


"We try to be judicious about the items we ask our associates to engage on," explained Gabriela Saenz, vice president of advocacy and public policy for CHRISTUS Health. She said an electronic communication effort may be planned about a week before CHRISTUS Health advocacy and public policy representatives make in-person visits on Capitol Hill. The system tracks how many letters are sent, so during the Hill meetings, CHRISTUS representatives may note that many constituents have recently contacted the legislators in support of CHRISTUS' advocacy position.

Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives' Colleen Scanlon, senior vice president and chief advocacy officer, said health care access and coverage for all has long been the system's top advocacy priority, though the strategies to accomplish it have changed over time. This includes the use of more e-advocacy.

CHI uses Washington, D.C.-based CQ's advocacy platform to build template letters, which can be sent electronically to a person's legislators. CHI has sent 23 advocacy alerts to date in 2017. Rachel Tanner, the system's director of regulatory affairs, said the most successful alert generated 477 letters from 187 people opposed to ACA repeal.


CHI advocacy leaders, like Scanlon and Tanner, reach out to CHI leadership most involved with an issue, and ask those leaders to communicate with employees that their action on a legislative issue would be welcome. In some cases, their communications stretch across 17 states. In other instances, they are very targeted, such as asking the director of laboratory services in the system office to ask lab workers to contact representatives if they're opposed to legislation increasing certain lab fees. "We try to take in all the information from Washington, digest it, and let people know when the most important things are happening, and when to act," Tanner said.

Quick response
CHA uses an e-advocacy software called The Soft Edge, and its advocacy page with sample letters on key issues is at chausa.org/advocacy/contact-congress#

CHA has had 15 e-advocacy campaigns thus far in 2017, including a campaign against ACA repeal that has been updated several times due to changing legislative initiatives. Clay O'Dell, CHA's director of member advocacy, said electronic advocacy tools allow CHA to quickly update informational materials and talking points and modify messages to Congress.

"That flexibility has helped make the campaign to oppose repeal of the Affordable Care Act the single most successful one since we began using e-advocacy, with nearly 8,000 messages to date generated to both the House and Senate," he said.



Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.