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