Making an Impact on Public Policy Virtually

Source: CMSA Today

The pandemic has changed so much of what we do and how we do it, but it has not stopped CMSA from advocating for case managers everywhere. The CMSA Public Policy Committee hosted the organization’s very first Virtual Hill Visits program earlier this year, and while many were skeptical about how effective this mode of advocacy would ultimately be, the program was a huge success.

Over the course of a week in February 2022, 46 CMSA members prepared for and participated in 27 total scheduled meetings. Meeting virtually with members of Congress and/or their health policy staff from their respective areas of the country, case managers made progress in advancing the awareness of the professional practice of case management and more permanent access to and funding for both telehealth and mental health services beyond the pandemic. Through the magic of software and the internet, case managers helped to elevate the professional practice of case management and the immediate needs of case managers nationwide.

Participating CMSA members received a comprehensive briefing to provide information on conducting an effective Hill visit with talking points on the key priorities of the organization. The 2022 CMSA Hill Visits program was critical to CMSA’s continued efforts to effect lasting and impactful policy change.

Still skeptical? Hear from representatives of the CMSA Public Policy Committee about their positive CMSA Virtual Hill Visits experience:

The 2022 CMSA Virtual Hill Day was a resounding success! While I had no idea what to expect from a “virtual” Hill Day, I came away feeling that we had prepared well, had a story to tell, and that we were heard. Leading up to the event, there was preparation galore by our Public Policy Committee and CMSA staff. All the hard work paid off, as the Hill Visits went off without a hitch.

Our goal was to meet individually with our representatives in Washington, D.C. to share and discuss the strategic initiatives we have been working on – Mental Health, Telehealth and Workforce Development. We did that and so much more. There was conversation, listening, sharing of ideas and stories about not only these topics but about ourselves. Our representatives gained valuable insight into the impact case managers have on countless people every day.

I am proud of my profession, and I was honored to be a part of the CMSA Virtual Hill Visits program.
∼Janet Gould, RN, BSN, CCM, CHC

I have enjoyed participating in CMSA Hill Days for many years. It’s been a rite of passage for me, signifying my constant interest in making improvements to health-related legislation. Previously, it always involved a trip to the Capitol. It was exciting to walk into the congressional buildings, find the correct office and meet with our legislators and often their legislative aides. Due to the tight scheduling, this often involved scurrying across the mall for your next appointment, often recognizing some of our elected and appointed officials as they were heading to their next meeting. A highlight was when I met Secretary of State Madeleine Albright under the rotunda and we took a selfie together.

This year, the pandemic necessitated a new format for Hill Day. Since we are all experts now at virtual calls, it rolled out like clockwork. A lot of planning goes into matching CMSA members with their legislators. We paired up more experienced members with first timers. We had a prioritized list of issues we wanted to discuss and legislation that we wanted to support. We were able to share personal stories about how telehealth has been so critically helpful during the pandemic and how we wanted to see this option continue to be reimbursed across the nation for all healthcare providers. We supported many pieces of legislation that promote mental health access and the inclusion of case management into all health plans.

Given the turnover in each legislative office, we often found ourselves explaining exactly what is it that case managers do and how we effect change in healthcare outcomes. We fielded questions from the legislative aides and offered to be available for more questions they might have in the future. It afforded us the opportunity to continue to push our messaging out to our legislators in a way that was available to all our members who wanted to participate. CMSA Virtual Hill Visits was a great success! I hope that we will continue to have a virtual way to participate in Hill Day even when it’s safer to gather in the future.
∼Amy Heithoff-Dominguez, MSA, BSN, RNC, CCM, RN-BC

It has only been through my years as a practicing professional case manager that I felt a calling to advocate in a different way for clients. Healthcare has changed so quickly over the past decade. I am sure you have felt it too. Concerns with medication lists, appointments and coordination of services quickly changed to health needs driven around policy, regulation, laws and confusing new legislation. The system has become more complicated to work through even by experienced healthcare providers, leaving our consumers of services frustrated and lacking the ability to navigate issues on their own.

We have all had a case that pulled at our heart strings and knew that it was going to take something bigger than self to solve. The issue at hand would require stretching far beyond the normal day-to-day standard of practice. Identifying something that is not right just makes us want to fight for the cause and gives us the courage to take a more drastic action.

For me, that moment was contacting my senator, requesting his help with a Medicare issue and writing a letter of explanation with terminology I had not used in my normal day-to-day practice. Getting a prompt reaction was beyond my expectations, and a resolution within 12 hours still leaves me in awe to this day. I was able to share this story during the CMSA Virtual Hill Visits 2022. It is important that our representatives, senators and staffers know the difference they make in peoples’ lives and how the decisions they make impact our work. Partnering with policy makers can and will change outcomes!
∼Crystal Hutchinson, MSHL, BSN, RN, CCM

My first job on Capitol Hill in the late 1980s was as a congressional case worker, tasked with advocating with a myriad of government agencies on behalf of constituents and finding resources most frequently with VA, Medicare and TRICARE, the essential component in resolving complex cases. One very complex case that I successfully worked on required transporting a military family, including a newborn, from a duty station three continents away back to the U.S. for life-saving treatment, within a 36-hour window.

I was reminded of the similarity of the work that I do today as a geriatric case manager when I led my CMSA peers on visits with congressional offices during our recent CMSA Virtual Hill Visits program – and the importance of becoming a voice for our clients by educating members of Congress and their staff on the direct impact of legislation on their constituent’s – our client’s – lives and well-being.

During our visits, we told the stories of our clients, the work that we do, the importance of case managers and our roles in improving patient health outcomes. We discussed how expanding access through telehealth has reduced barriers to care delivery and could cite specific examples of how clients were able to access care during the pandemic. State of Missouri legislative staff learned about the opportunity to increase mental health services and supports through telehealth visits and the need to improve reimbursement options.

One area of particular interest to the 13 senate and 14 representative offices visited was the chance for staff to hear first-hand from case managers about their role as integral members of the care management teams and as critical employees during public health emergencies. The stories told by nurses and social workers about work in COVID-19 floors, hospitals, community-based settings and in emergency rooms, were riveting and, for some staff, eye-opening, understanding the scope of work that CMSA members do every single day and the need to support workforce development issues.

I’m grateful for the chance to join other CMSA members for the 2022 Virtual Hill Visits program, but our work improving collaborative relationships with legislators and their staff must continue throughout the other 363 days of the year. Case managers are experts in offering real-life examples of how legislation works – or could work better – as it relates to improving healthcare outcomes through effective case management. Case managers have compelling numerical data on cost savings, increased efficiencies and more, but they also have the chance to tell the story of a family that received life-saving treatment.
∼Charlene Neu, CCM

I have participated in Hill Days over the years, going back to the early ’90s when we went to the Hill and lobbied for the definition of case management to be recorded in the Congressional Record. This was important to us, as we felt that if included, it would be referenced in future legislation and healthcare discussions. We went with excitement, nervousness and trepidation that we would not be viewed as significant. However, we were successful, and thus began CMSA’s entry into public policy. There is an energy on the Hill, and in previous visits, I have always left exhausted. In-person Hill Days are all-consuming, and while the experience is exciting and at times a challenge, it is where our voice is heard.

We have now designed and implemented CMSA Virtual Hill Visits, partly due to the circumstances presented to us as a result of COVID and partly due to the new world of technology and how best everyone can access each other virtually.

I was amazed at the level of engagement from congressional staff over the virtual platform. We had prepared ourselves well on the issues and bills important to us, and the congressional staff did the same. The discussions were robust; everyone respected everyone’s else’s time, expertise and knowledge, and the days were productive. We left these meetings with follow-up tasks and felt like we laid groundwork for future discussions.

While I had no idea what to expect, I left these meetings feeling energized, not exhausted. We made an inroad, and I would be excited to participate again. We spent time to prepare, we engaged with congressional staff, and yet we did it without an overburden of time and expense.

Next time, please join us!
∼Mindy Owen, RN, CRRN, CCM, FCM CMSA Past President

public policy

One of the high points of the CMSA Public Policy Committee is sponsoring Hill Day. While the pandemic forced us to put Hill Day on hold, it did not put our grassroots advocacy role on hold. As the CARES ACT emerged, it gave new life to what case managers already knew was needed for our patients. From the CARES ACT, the Committee identified three priorities – Telehealth, Workforce Development and Mental Health – that we wanted to embrace. The priorities we chose spoke to legislation that, if continued, would improve healthcare in this country. Our goal is to not only make our members aware of the legislation, but to arm them with what each of the bills involve so that our members could exercise their right to grassroots advocacy as constituents from their areas.

The committee felt we needed to return to our Hill Day efforts to assure our legislators that case management was alive and well and still doing what we do so well, advocating for our patients. Like many things, the pandemic changed how we facilitated our Hill Day. Instead of attending in person, our Hill Day was virtual. While those of us who had attended in person in the past missed the ambiance of Washington, D.C. and meeting face to face, our Virtual Hill Visits went well. Virtual meant that case managers who might not have been able to attend because of cost or work restrictions could meet with their legislators because their commitment was much shorter.

CMSA Virtual Hill Visits also gave those case managers who were new to public policy or not as comfortable with the process the opportunity to be with members of the committee and membership that were more experienced to give everyone an opportunity to participate at their own comfort level. Change is good, and from our experiences this year, we are excited to continue to offer another CMSA Virtual Hill Visits program in 2023. No matter what the format is, we must remember that we all have a voice, and we must make that voice heard. Stay tuned – there are more Hill Days to come!
∼Susan Plough, MSN, RN, PHCNS-BC, CCM Chair, CMSA Public Policy Committee

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