One Person Can Make a Difference

On this site, we speak often of advocacy. We ask you to be an advocate, we train you to be an advocate, we provide opportunities for you to be an advocate, but I bet the majority of you are sitting home reading this and first thinking….”another advocacy blog? Ugh.” And second you may be thinking, “I could never go do that, why would I want to do that? Isn’t there someone else better trained than me to do that?”

Last night, I had a unique experience that took me back to the first time I advocated for bariatric surgery benefits, not in front of one legislator, but a whole panel of legislators. I thought I would share my experience with you. Please bear with me and read on.

In 2004, after being a bariatric surgery patient for three years, I finally had the opportunity to begin working as a bariatric coordinator. I was feeling my way around this new position, learning the ropes, learning the ins and outs when about four months in to my new job, in my new specialty, I was made aware that TennCare (the Medicaid program in the state of Tennessee) was considering dropping bariatric surgery coverage from their benefit plan. The concerns regarding this were many.

First, the concern that this segment of the population would no longer have coverage, but second that if a major plan paid by the state such as TennCare stopped covering bariatric surgery, then how long would it be before state employees lost their coverage. If state employees lost their coverage, as one of the largest employers in the state, how long before other large employers followed suit? How long before there would be no bariatric surgery coverage in Tennessee?

I’m still not quite sure how I became the “chosen one” to speak at the panel assembled; however, I suspect given my short tenure in the bariatric world it was because everyone else they asked said no and I was too new to know to say no!

I had two weeks to prepare. I asked everyone I knew in the bariatric world to help. The same people that helped form the OAC started sending me tons (and I do mean tons) of information to review and they helped me organize it into something that would make sense to those who really had no idea what bariatric surgery is, what it does or how it changes lives. Knowing that unfortunately a lot of time it’s all about the Benjamins, I then put together a couple of case studies showing the healthcare costs for a couple of our patients in the year before they had bariatric surgery and how much their medication costs dropped already. Then I personalized it further by adding my own story of my experience with bariatric surgery. The day before the panel, I went to my office closed the door and I practiced and practiced and practiced some more.

The morning of the panel, there were eight legislators and only a few (maybe 15) in the audience. I was so nervous. I spoke for 10 minutes, the first couple I’m sure my voice was at a level so high only dogs could hear. At the end of my verbal submission, I submitted 125 written pages of documentation. The panel thanked me and I left. I was still shaking. To this day, I couldn’t tell you a single word I said. When I left, I only hoped that I didn’t babble unintelligibly the whole time.

Then, a couple of things happened. The same day I spoke I received a phone call from a lobbyist for one of the major hospitals in the area asking for a copy of my testimony submitted. He was very complimentary and said he would like to see the resources I used. I asked why the hospital he represented didn’t send someone to speak and he responded they didn’t feel it affected them. Hmmm-please see the second paragraph as this is how I responded to him and no, I didn’t give him a copy of my submission. I believe I suggested maybe he should do his job and find his own data.

A couple of weeks after the panel, I received a phone call from one of the legislators who said they wanted to let me know they were going to continue coverage. She said I was the only one they were calling; everyone else would receive a letter. They were so moved by my plea to them that they wanted to call and let me know their decision.

Fast-forward to last night as I’m sitting in my first night of class in a 12-week program I’ve started. At the break, this gentleman came up and introduced himself and said, “Didn’t you speak at one of our panel hearings in legislative plaza about eight or nine years ago on bariatric surgery?” “Yes,” I said. “We were going to drop the coverage.” “Yes.” I said. “And you came and spoke.” “Yes.” “And we kept the coverage, we still cover it today. You did a good thing.” “Thank you, I said.”

Now folks, don’t go thinking that I or anyone else on the OAC expect you to go from couch to panel hearing as your first advocacy effort. That’s not the point of my blog. My point is when we speak up, speak out and share our passion and personal story of what we believe in and educate others who simply either do not know or who have been misinformed:

      • You will be heard.
      • You will be appreciated.
      • You will make a difference.
      • And you will be an advocate.

Advocacy means so many different things. It can be a one-time call-to-action, but often, it’s about more than that. It’s about building long-term connections and serving as a resource. Let’s just say given all that’s going on with healthcare I’m very glad we had a nice long walk to the parking garage last night.

All you need to become an advocate is your personal experience and to feel passionate about the issue. The OAC will help you with the rest.

The OAC provides multiple opportunities for you to advocate from your home or on the hill. We are happy to help you go from couch to Washington, DC (almost as much fun as couch to 5k).

Pam Davis, RN, CBN, Chairman of the OAC Board of Directors



15 Comments for this Post
  • tammy watson
    February 22, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Pam,
    let me know!!!

    sincerely,
    tammy


    • Pam Davis
      February 27, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Tammy,

      What state do you live in and what types of activities would you be interested in doing? If you’re going to be at the OAC convention this year, the advocacy training event is AWESOME. Please feel free to email me directly to discuss further and thank you for your comments.

      Pam


  • reta stowe
    February 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    i was a lvn i have had gastric by pass it was a life changing experience with out it i would had been a died . i know i would have.i am diabetic fibro, nuropothey., hurt all over weighed 350 lbs nam now in so no thyroid function.i am now size 14 and 170 lbs new nic name skinny i know i am so happy love it wish i could have done it at younger age. what do i need to be a advacote?


    • Pam Davis
      February 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      Hello Reta,

      Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience and for your willingness to be an advocate. Do you mind sharing with me where you live? Please feel free to email me directly so we can discuss what activities you are comfortable with and if you’re attending the OAC convention this year, we would love to see you participate in the advocacy training event.

      Pam


  • Jeff Hughes
    February 22, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Well put!! While I have not advocated at that level I am very vocal in my support of the surgery and what it does for people. This past Monday I went for my annual wellness check at my family doctor’s office and she called me later that day with my results – said I was the healthiest she has ever seen me and could not believe the turn around I had made over the past year. It’s amazing what this surgery does for people and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to take that away!


    • Pam Davis
      February 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Jeff,

      As always, thank you for your willingness to share your experience and your feedback. Keeping our healthcare professionals informed of our progress and the improvement in our obesity related health conditions after surgery is an important way of continuing to advocate for the ongoing support of obesity treatment options among the medical community.

      Pam


  • Sharon
    February 24, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Pam
    It really is frightening the 1st time you talk to a legislative group isn;t it? You did great & more importanly, they heard your plea because it came from your heart and you were well prepared. We are so fortunate to have such a great advocate in our corner! TX does not offer much bariatric coverage nor is it projected to be covered in the new healthcare plan so TABS is looking at ways to change that plan.
    Tammy- I am sure Pam will respond but here’s a link you can check out:
    http://www.obesityaction.org/advocacy/getting-started


    • Pam Davis
      February 27, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Sharon,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. Texas is so lucky to have coordinators like you and Tammy! The OAC was honored to have our inaugural Your Weight Matters convention in Dallas. We kicked off the convention with a half day of advocacy training including mock legislator visits. I strongly encourage anyone who can attend this year in Phoenix to consider doing so!

      Pam


  • Pandora Williams
    February 26, 2013 at 5:22 am

    After having the opportunity to attend the OAC Your Weight Matters Convention last year and participating in their Advocacy Training Program my entire life changed. Without even realizing it I was suddenly an Advocate and Health Activist without even trying.

    I look so forward to working with the OAC and Advocating for others in the fight against Obesity.

    ““Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

    http://desperatelyseekingslender.com/2013/02/26/one-person-can-make-a-difference-choose-to-be-that-person/


  • Jessica Loveless
    February 27, 2013 at 12:01 am

    Pam,

    Our story is SO similar it is scary! I started on a new adventure as Bariatric coordinator on 1/18/13. I had Bariatric surgery on 1/18/2010. I started my new endevor exactly 3 years after my surgery! I would love for you to email me! Advocacy is such an important piece. Thank you for your courage and blind ambition 10years ago. I am finding that new eyes and new voices at times come along at just the right time. It is easy to get discouraged by others expectations of the status quo, but it takes courage sometimes fueled by blind ambitious passion that lead to change. I hope I will have a similar story to tell. To all other coordinators reading, lets get off of the couch and the backseat of the status quo of meeting COE standards and exceed the standards!

    Thank you Pam for your leadership and encouraging story!


    • Pam Davis
      March 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      Jessica,
      CONGRATULATIONS! Welcome to the wonderful and rewarding world of bariatrics. We can and will affect change in others. Your patients are very fortunate to have you. Please email me.

      Thank you so much for commenting and for following the OAC blog.
      Pam


  • Paula
    March 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Pam,
    You know my story! I am in….


  • Sally murac
    March 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I’d love to learn more about how to be an advocate. Im8 years out this month and am currently enrolled in Institute of Integrative Nutrition to be a certified HealthCoach. My ultimate goal is to help people who have had gastric bypass succeed. Thank you. Sally


  • nataisha ramirez
    March 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I would love to hear more about the opportunity to be an advocate. Please provide more information. Thank you in advance, Nataisha Ramirez


  • Carol Cox
    April 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Pam,
    I sincerely enjoyed reading your story and I too want to help. I had to fight, literally fight, for over 4 years to get my surgery. I have a health condition that helped bring me to over 500 lbs. When I first started trying to have the RNY I had 5 doctor and 1 therapist recommendations for the surgery and was advised by insurance that it wasn’t a covered benefit, even though they had all of my health information and was paying over $1,000 per month for my medications. I hired an attorney due to the Indiana State Code that said insurance must provide coverage for this surgery if you meet XXX criteria, which I certainly did. At the time Anthem was the insurance provider and their answer to my attorney was that they did provide the coverage to the bank where I worked and they (the bank) are the ones that denied carrying this type of coverage. I then went to my HR department where I spoke to the VP and she advised that Anthem was going to charge the bank $250,000 per year to add this rider to their policy and they simply couldn’t afford it being just a small community bank. I was appalled that Anthem could get by with this. The attorney told me I could continue to fight but that basically big insurance had found a loop hole and there was no way we could win this…he felt so bad about the situation that his firm didn’t charge me for the work he had completed to that point. I would like to work with the OAC as an advocate to help get this changed, but I would also like to start my own non-profit to assist the middle class (stuck in the insurance loop like I was) that either isn’t on public assistance or can’t afford to pay the discounted cash rate out-of-pocket. I was fortunate enough to finally have my surgery on 01/31/13 and I can honestly say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, now I want to help others avoid what I had to go through. Something certainly needs to change and I’m glad there is an organization like yours that cares enough to help make those changes. Please let me know what I can do to assist and if you have any ideas on how I can get my non-profit going as well. Thanks for your time and your fight.

    Sincerely, Carol Cox



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