Connecting with Legislators in Yakima

Kerry Harthcock, MD, FAAP
WCAAP Trustee

On July 30th, 16 pediatric health care providers met with the 14th legislative district’s Senator Curtis King and Representative Gina Mosbrucker. The group included physicians, a behavioral health specialist, and nurse practitioners.  The goals of this meeting were to develop providers’ relationships with their legislators and to educate the legislators on some of the issues the WCAAP is advocating for. We had a productive discussion with a variety of viewpoints and were impressed by the legislators’ preparation and level of interest.

We discussed the medical home concept and what pediatric providers are very good at: prevention. To illustrate the importance of Medicaid reimbursement being brought to 100% of the Medicare rate, we gave examples of clinics dissolving due to low reimbursements.  I then told them about my pediatric hospitalist group that I started in 2009 at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital being dissolved partly because of this issue. This morphed into a discussion about the pros and cons of single-payer health care systems.

Behavioral Health then took over, as it is an issue that is on most pediatric health care providers’ minds. We brought up recent legislation and current needs and discussed the Partnership Access Line. The behavioral health specialist in attendance is embedded in a pediatric primary care clinic and shared her “usual day in the office.” We heard testimonies from primary care providers about the value of behavioral health access at the point of care (POC).  With the idea of POC, we then discussed school-based health care clinics, including the clinic Dr. Peter Asante is opening at Davis High School this fall.  Dr. Meera Singh spoke about her experience with school-based health in Chicago for 5 years before coming to Yakima.

Sen. King and Rep. Mosbrucker were engaged throughout and both want to come back and do this again.  As this was our first time hosting an event like this in Central Washington, we learned a few lessons:

1.      An agenda is needed to start the conversation going.  You don’t have to follow it, but you must be able to herd cats if you don’t.

2.      Two topics max.  If legislators are prepared, this should be sufficient.  If your audience does not participate well, you may need more topics to bring up.

3.      Keep groups small (<20) so all can feel like they can speak out. Pediatric providers need a platform to speak from and this small group format works very well for that.

4.      Small groups like this help local pediatric providers learn they can approach the legislators.  Hopefully, some will do this on their own with issues they are passionate about.

5.      We had no problems mixing MD/DOs with NPs, Social Workers, BH specialists in the same group.  Everyone is “touching the same elephant” so to speak and can discuss what affects them.