Thatcher Felt, DO, FAAP
Member, WCAAP Legislative Committee
Pediatric advocacy should be a year-round effort. WCAAP has a strong voice in Olympia during the legislative session. It’s important to acknowledge that our ability to influence policy occurs during the interim as well. I learned firsthand the benefit these discussions can have.
I live in the Tri-Cities area (District 4), and Sharon Brown is our district’s Senator. I practice in a rural community health center and am fortunate enough to have a behavioral health consultant (BHC) in my clinic. My experience with a BHC has made me a strong proponent for enhancing the scope of their practice across the state.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Senator Brown during our Advocacy Day event in Olympia last year. We talked briefly about the importance of establishing a strong behavioral health system in our region. Improving the delivery of mental health services in Washington was one of her legislative priorities.
During the interim I had multiple interactions with Senator Brown. We met at a local Starbucks for a casual conversation about the behavioral health challenges in our district. I was then invited to participate in a community forum lead by Senator Brown that focused on ways to reduce teen suicide rates. Finally I had a discussion with Senator Brown’s staff about drafting legislation aimed at promoting the practice of behavioral health consultants statewide.
Senator Brown became the author and Sponsor for Senate bill 5779 during the 2016-2017 legislative session. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support. In short, SB 5779 makes it possible for behavioral health consultants to practice in any setting in Washington. I was told that my interim advocacy for BHCs played a significant role in the drafting of this legislation. In the process, Senator Brown surfaced as a behavioral health champion, also becoming a proponent of other important kids’ mental health bills this session, including the Children’s Mental Health Bill (SB 5763/HB 1713) and the Paperwork Reduction Bill (HB 1819).
I urge you to contact your representatives during the interim. Here are a few suggestions on how to become involved:
• Find a child health topic of personal interest that you face in your community.
• Become an informed expert.
• Develop solutions to local or statewide problems.
• Contact your legislator. (Find your legislators here.)
• Invite him/her or a staff member to meet for coffee or for a site visit at your clinic or hospital.
Legislators want to hear our opinions. After all, a bill might be drafted after your interactions.
The session continues on with a second special session and unfortunately we have not heard significant progress toward a negotiated state budget. Thank you for your terrific advocacy during our 4 Weeks – 4 Actions – For Kids campaign. During these special sessions, it is critical that we remain a strong voice for kids. We continue to push for improved Medicaid access for kids and want to assure funding for the three bills that passed which will improve kids’ access to mental health care. We are also continuing to support Paid Family Medical Leave. Thank you for all you have done. You can expect a summary of the session once it closes – and let’s hope that is long before the fall!