Mercy and Truth Board Member Arthur Smith lives in Senator Dinah Sykes' district. Mercy and Truth met with her during Advocacy Day 2019. Board member Howard Russell (back right) and Executive Director Geofrey Kigenyi (front) are also pictured here.
"I had the distinct honor of being there on two of the coldest days of 2019."
Advocacy efforts have been underway for several years now in Missouri and Kansas to expand coverage of Medicaid. Through my work at safety net clinic Mercy and Truth Medical Missions, I see individuals every week that are not covered under the plan, and they struggle to cover the cost of a co-pay to see a doctor or a nurse practitioner.
That’s why advocacy is important.
Advocacy is about influencing the lawmakers and informing them of where you stand on the issues. This can be challenging. I’ve had some appointments with lawmakers that have made me want to weep with frustration. And, some have developed into friendships. But you have to keep going and working so that the legislators understand how they can assist the people your organization serves.
Here are 12 steps I’ve learned about building relationships while we’ve been advocating for Medicaid expansion:
- Relationship building should not just happen when lawmakers are in Jefferson City or Topeka. As best you can, it needs to be a year-round journey. Use email or pick up the phone and touch base with them during the “offseason.”
- Invite your representatives and senators to visit your organization, see how it operates, and how they can assist you. But remember it should be a two-way street. Always ask if there is anything you can do to help them.
- During the legislative session, find out when like minded-organizations will be going to the Capitol. Ask to partner with them. There’s strength in numbers!
- Each state senator and representative will have an administrative assistant. Get to know them. They normally help senators and representatives keep their calendars. When you go to your respective state capitol building, you’ll want to make sure you have appointments set up with as many legislative members as you can.
- Invite board members and even patients to come with you to talk. When you invite them, you’ll need to make sure that they understand the key issues, and that they also know who you will be visiting. Also remind everyone to bring business cards.
- Start positive! When you are ready for your meeting, always thank the legislator for any support that they have given. Even if you’re not on the same page on every issue, you should be able to thank them for serving your state.
- When I visit a legislator, I always like to get their “feel” for how they think the session is going and what do they perceive the challenges to be in the current session.
- Then, quickly state why you are visiting and what support you are asking for. The vast majority of the meetings that I’ve had have been only 10 to 15 minutes. So, this is the time for the “elevator speech” about why you’re there.
- Sometimes, if you haven’t said everything you want to say, they will allow you to walk with them to their next appointment or committee meeting. Take them up on that opportunity.
- Always take a photograph with them. They want their constituents to see that they have time for meetings. Post that photograph on social media.
- Send a thank you note. I always try to reiterate what I was there to talk with them about.
Advocacy work can be challenging, but can also be so rewarding. The one thing that always encourages me is when I remember that I’m speaking for the thousands of our patients who can’t make a trip to the Capitol, yet they need the services that would be provided by Medicaid expansion.
I have a picture of one of our patients on my phone who had a baby about a year ago. I went to visit her in the hospital. She was blessed to be on Medicaid, so she did not have to worry about her care or the care her newborn would receive. I keep that picture to remind myself that I’m fighting for them!
Thank you all for advocating and taking the time to make a difference in someone’s life.