Hospice Advocacy: A Personal Approach

On a cool, overcast day in late March, 300 Hospice Advocates stormed Capitol Hill to spread the message of hospice and to request support of the HELP Hospice Act (S. 722/H.R. 3506). After spending the past few months managing the Hill Day registration process, it was invigorating to see and hear the excitement from Hill Day attendees after their meetings came to a close. Susan Fuglie, a Hospice Advocate and first-time Hill Day participant from North Dakota, came into the respite room energized after attending her Congressional meetings. On the bus back to the Gaylord Convention Center, the Hawaii delegation proudly showed off pictures they had taken with their Senators, both of whom have signed-on to the HELP Hospice Act. And the Arkansas delegation excitedly told HAN staff that Congressman Mike Ross would co-sponsor the legislation. In fact, Congressman Ross’s office navigated the proper channels that day to become an official co-sponsor, something rarely seen on Capitol Hill. Additionally, Hospice Advocates who couldn’t attend Hill Day pitched in by calling their Members of Congress and asked them to support of the HELP Hospice Act. Since Hill Day, 5 Representatives, including Congressman Ross, have officially co-sponsored the legislation, and even more have made verbal agreements to become a co-sponsor.

Although it is only one part of HAN’s broader strategy to pass this important legislation, bringing Hospice Advocates to the Hill is one of the most important things we feel we do here in D.C. Last week, HAN had banners on Congressional Quarterly’s (CQ) “Health Beat” daily emails, advertisements in a special healthcare issue of CQ, as well as an ad in Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. In March, we placed ads in a special issue of USA Today Magazine. HAN staff works with a team of lobbyists, who all have personal hospice experience, throughout the year to reach out to Members of Congress. But Hospice Advocates—whether CEOs, clinicians, or social workers—all bring a personal face and a name to hospice. You bring stories of real patients and families, and how hospice was able to benefit them at the end of life. For example, Hospice Advocates are able to explain how the face-to-face encounter requirement directly affects their hospices and delivery of care to hospice patients. As a result, you add personal touch to a regulatory requirement that may make a staffer or Member of Congress look at the issue in a different light.

For me, Hill Day was my first opportunity to meet our wonderful Hospice Advocates. Instead of names and membership ID numbers, I could put faces to the names of Michele Fedderly, Carol Clark, and Kathy McMahon, for example. These leaders in advocacy in their states and in NHPCO are clearly respected among their peers, leading their state delegations during strategy sessions and on the Hill. They are also thoughtful and incredibly kind and each one promptly asked to see pictures of Tony’s baby girl (Tony happily obliged!). I came to realize that those personal touches, and those of other Advocates, are simply an extension of what sets hospice workers apart as advocates. You sincerely care about your patients and individuals that enter your lives, if only for a brief time. To be effective hospice workers, you must be able to connect with those around you with ease. This comes through in your interactions with Members of Congress and their staffers.

So while advertising may bring attention to hospice on Capitol Hill, we need the personal experiences and stories you bring to your Members of Congress to really get the message—and meaning—of hospice across. The advertisements and lobbyist meetings set the stage for you to tip the scales in the direction of hospice. To support the efforts of your fellow Hospice Advocates, participate in Virtual Hill Day through April 6 by clicking here. Consider coming to Washington, D.C., to tell your story to Congress as part of the Advocacy Intensive on June 18-19. Call your Members of Congress, or write a letter to the editor, to tell them why they should support the HELP Hospice Act. Invite your Members of Congress to tour your facility and show them what hospice is. The staff of the Hospice Action Network is here to help you with all of this. But no matter what, the key to successful Hospice Advocacy is simply telling your story.

Pictured above: Congressman Mike Ross with the Arkansas Delegation on Hill Day.