Do you have a candidate who you particularly like, one who actively supports issues you feel strongly about? Would you like to see this candidate win? Or, do you feel just as strongly about making an opponent lose? Either way, welcome to the election season. Now is the perfect time to try to influence the results—if you care, that is. And, by the way, you should care, because a lot is at stake in the 2008 elections, both at the national and the state levels, from health care reform to the economy to taxes and welfare.
You can invest your time or your money or both. Your results will depend pretty directly on your investment and how much you want to get involved. First, decide which issues are most important to you. Second, decide which candidate(s) best support or at least understand your issues. Third, decide which avenue of involvement will best help you to attain your goals; there are several.
The easiest involvement simply entails making a donation of money to a PAC (Political Action Committee) that shares your particular political goals and beliefs. Here your funds get pooled with those from others to make a collective – and therefore stronger – impact. These funds then get doled out to a candidate or several candidates, usually depending on the specific candidate’s support of specific issues relevant to that organization. Your contribution buys you general but somewhat impersonal influence, but it also allows your money to go much further than a single contribution. There are lots of PAC’s out there. In medicine, these may involve emergency medical care, tort reform, access to health care, physician reimbursement, or EMTALA reform. Examples of effective PAC’s include the NEMPAC (for members of ACEP) and the AMPAC (for members of the AMA). With NEMPAC, the highest priorities include support of medical liability reform, support of emergency medical services (ACEP’s HR 882 / S 1003: “Access to Emergency Medical Services Act”), emergency department overcrowding, and physician payment reform. So, with each dollar given to NEMPAC you would be directly supporting these issues and many more.
If you want to take your financial support to the next level, you can donate money directly to the candidate’s campaign. Or you can host a fundraising event for the candidate. Both of these will likely gain you direct access to the candidate and staff, as well as an ongoing relationship (and the hope for a repeat support performance the next election), should that be your goal.
On a more personal level, you can contact the individual candidate to initiate a personal working relationship with the candidate and his/her staff. You can arrange meetings with him/her at the local office (most state and federal candidates have one or more) or at an official location. You can arrange to host a visit for the candidate to your emergency department and introduce him/her to your staff and others in your facility. This is a great opportunity for media coverage and helps to educate the candidate on emergency care issues, and it really is not all that difficult. You can volunteer to assist in the campaign itself in a myriad of ways, such as distributing literature and signs and working as a volunteer on the campaign trail. And you can write letters of support to local newspapers.
Should you wish to take the plunge and invite your candidate to visit your ED, here are a couple of pointers. Contact the candidate or a member of his/her staff (especially any health care staff) with whom you have established a relationship. Tell them you would like to give the candidate an opportunity to witness an emergency department first-hand and make a public statement at the same time about his/her commitment to Access to Health care for all. Give the candidate a white coat to wear during the visit (personalization gives added meaning). Be prepared to provide a brief introduction with some statistics and expectations prior to “going out there.” Give your hospital administrators a heads up. Remember, surprises are frowned on by the C-Suite. In fact, invite them to “drop by.” While you’re at it, keep your hospital’s PR department in the loop. Be sure to introduce the candidate to all of your staff and encourage him/her to ask questions. Take plenty of photos and have a “wrap-up” at the conclusion of the visit. If the visit goes well, ask for a follow-up meeting, and always send a thank-you note summarizing some of the issues you have discussed.
In the end, remember that all political candidates are human. They listen to many different people who have many different points of view. There are no pure candidates. What you get with any candidate is a mixture of beliefs and actions that hopefully mirror some of your own. But there will always be differences of opinion.
The key is getting involved—at any level—to make an impact on the process and make sure that your voice is heard.
Michael Carius is a former president of ACEP