The pitter patter of tiny feet is a welcome distraction through the halls of the House office building where U.S. Representatives often meet with lobbyists on a multitude of issues. Today, the lobbyists are from children’s hospitals. To lobby is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in a government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies.
The term lobbyist often garners a suspicious look, carrying with it a connotation of someone who wines and dines politicians until they agree to legislation that favors the lobbyists’ interests. But today, the sound of the tiny shoes of a two year old running down the halls of legislative offices is a stark contrast to the idea of lobbying for many. The little girl running around and causing a lot of smiles is Audrina Cardenas, born at Texas Children’s Hospital in 2013 with a condition called Ectopia Cordis. Simply put, a third of Audrina’s heart was outside her chest. It took many specialties and several hours of surgery to fix her condition and Audrina is still undergoing surgeries to fix the issues that continue well past her initial surgery. Audrina is the definition of a complex medical case and in her role today, she is helping legislators understand why the Advancing Care for Exceptional Kids Act of 2015 (ACE Kids Act) is needed to reform Medicaid. She will meet with representatives and senators who will hear her story from her mom and Texas Children’s representatives and try to help them understand how this legislation will impact other children like Audrina for the better.
The bill is a proposal to improve how care is delivered to America’s children with complex medical conditions on Medicaid by creating federally designated centers of excellence at children’s hospitals that care for these patients. Texas Children’s Director of Government Relations Rosie Valadez-McStay has been meeting with representatives and senators for months advocating for the passage of ACE Kids but today she’s bringing the patients to them to tell their own stories.
“If you’re going to be a lobbyist, being a lobbyist for a children’s hospital is the best job,” Valadez-McStay said. “We try to bring real life stories to our elected representatives and help them understand how the legislation they are proposing, or considering approval, impacts our mission and most importantly, our patients at Texas Children’s and other children’s hospitals across the country.”
Valadez-McStay and her team represent the organization in both Washington D.C. and Austin where legislation that affects hospitals is debated. They advocate for Medicaid and other issues that determine how care is delivered, who receives it, and how we sustain critical health programs such as trauma care, child abuse training, immunizations and disaster preparation, to name a few.
They also host legislators during their time back in their districts or when they are passing through Houston. For the government relations team, the purpose of these visits is to provide better insight to legislators about the importance of children’s hospitals and what distinguishes these facilities from their adult counterparts.
“How we shape and influence our elected and appointed officials with regards to health care law and policy will affect the way care is delivered at Texas Children’s for decades to come,” said Senior Vice President Alec King. “Our strategies and initiatives reach far and wide to tell the story of Texas Children’s to these decision makers, ensuring that our mission is supported and protected.”
On an August trip to the hospital, Congressman Joe Barton, the US House of Representatives co-author of ACE Kids, met with hospital executives, physicians, nurses, administrators and patient families about how our system is planning and designing better models of care for children with medically complex conditions.
“Barton was a supporter of the concept of his legislation – designating children’s hospitals as pediatric centers of excellence,” Valadez-McStay said. “But it wasn’t until he went through our hospital, spoke to providers, administrators and parents, that he truly appreciated our role in not only the care of these children, but also in the health and wellbeing of their families in and out of the hospital and into adulthood.”
Back in D.C., the visits from Audrina and other patient families resulted in 145 additional House co-sponsors and 24 US Senate co-sponsors to the ACE Kids Act; legislation that could ultimately make a major difference in the care of patients like Audrina who are covered by Medicaid.
Direct lobbying of policymakers is combined with outreach to key stakeholders and constituents back home, also known as, grassroots advocacy. The team encourages grassroots advocacy by employees, families and supporters of Texas Children’s. To join the grassroots advocacy network, click here and find out how you can participate in the legislative process and help shape public policy that affects the care we deliver every day.