By JULIE MINDA
SAN DIEGO — By putting faces and names to people who are helped by the Medicaid program and by mobilizing employees, board members and community members to protect Medicaid coverage, Providence St. Joseph Health is playing a part in protecting Medicaid.
Through its “The Many Faces of Medicaid” campaign, Providence St. Joseph Health demonstrates that ordinary people from many walks of life benefit from Medicaid and they could suffer if opponents succeed in limiting eligibility for the insurance.
"Caregiver and board member empowerment can make a difference" in shaping public opinion and public policy, said Ali Santore, vice president of government and public affairs for the Renton, Wash.-based health system. Together with Louise Hoy, Santore shared practical tips on how to carry out awareness-building campaigns, during the June 11 Catholic Health Assembly breakout session on empowering employees and board members to take a stand for Medicaid. Hoy is senior communications manager for advocacy for Providence St. Joseph.
Santore and Hoy said in spring and summer last year, members of the U.S. congress launched a series of legislative efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, including provisions of the act that made Medicaid coverage available for the first time to millions of Americans. The proposals included the introduction of the American Health Care Act in late spring, the Better Care Reconciliation Act in mid-summer and overhaul legislation from Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., in September.
In July 2017, Santore received an email that gave her an idea on how Providence St. Joseph could be more effective in its Medicaid advocacy. It was a heartfelt message from Providence St. Joseph Executive Director of Public Relations Nisha Morris — whom Santore had never met — thanking Santore and her team for fighting for Medicaid.
Morris wrote that Medicaid is essential to the survival of her young daughter, Nathasha. Medicaid covers the ventilator the child requires to stay alive when she sleeps. Because of a rare genetic condition called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome, she stops breathing while sleeping. Medi-Cal also pays for nursing support to occasionally allow the exhausted parents to sleep through the night.
"I saw that who we are fighting for has a face and a name," Santore said. That revelation was the inspiration for "The Many Faces of Medicaid," a multipronged campaign the Providence St. Joseph advocacy and communications teams would develop in the ensuing months. That initiative inspired the creation of CHA's "Medicaid Makes It Possible" ministry-wide effort to raise a national voice for Medicaid.
The Morris family – from left, Randy, Nathasha and Nisha – have been sharing Nathasha’s story for the “Many Faces of Medicaid” campaign. Nathasha relies on medical care paid for by Medicaid to survive.
Providence St. Joseph launched a grassroots advocacy campaign last summer with a compelling blog post from Dr. Rod Hochman, system president and chief executive. The initial push included emails and phone messages to employees, community board members and others. The messages from the health system's regional executive leaders explained the importance of Medicaid in their communities and directed the recipient to online tools that made it easy to contact their lawmakers.
After the grassroots outreach, the system expanded the campaign, developing stories of people in the health system's service area who rely on Medicaid. The campaign web page at psjhealth.org/facesofmedicaid has a video relating Nathasha's story, vignettes on numerous other people in the health system's service area who benefit from Medicaid, Medicaid fact sheets and other resource materials.
Santore and Hoy estimate that the campaign generated nearly 9,000 employee and board member emails to legislators. Nearly 3,000 people viewed Hochman's blog post. There have been about 4,000 views of the health system's campaign website. Santore and Hoy estimate the system has reached nearly 643,000 people through social media pushes.
The campaign has been successful because it engages employees, board members and community members around a mission-based, just cause; it keeps messages and materials simple and authentic; it demonstrates leadership's support for the effort; it is action oriented and nimble and responsive to shifting time lines for congressional votes; and it takes advantage of in-house talent and passion, the presenters said.
"My in-box was flooded with thank-yous from caregivers" when the team debuted the campaign, said Santore. "They were waiting for this and excited to take part. They are proud of our organization for taking a stand and living out our mission."
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