Hill Day Results in Communications, Connection, Action, and Smiles

September 19, 2019


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When the Society’s Board of Directors headed to Washington, DC, for Hill Day on September 5, a photo of the group captured the event perfectly. The smiling team exuded enthusiasm, energy, and confidence.

When Society President Arif Nazir, MD, FACP, CMD, AGSF, looks at this photo, he thinks of one word: positivity. He says, “We get what we build on and what we project. We need to start acknowledging that we have an almost impossible job, but we need to be positive about what we can and do accomplish. We are passionate about our work and ensuring quality care for the sickest population in the country. This comes through in our conversations with legislators.”

Dr. Nazir adds, “We all received a good response from everyone we met with. The Society staff did an amazing job of preparing us, and it was very easy to get people up to speed. We were able to help them understand the issues and why they are important. The meetings gave me hope that people are more focused on the issues that are important to us. I came home with great optimism.”

The group took three key topics to their congressional representatives’ offices:

  • The need for a national nursing home medical director registry. While many nursing homes engage their medical director appropriately in carrying out regulatory requirements, others may not; and still others may have medical directors in name only. A national registry could close this gap and reveal inconsistencies in medical director coverage.
  • Telehealth in the skilled nursing facility (SNF) setting. The Society supports the ongoing testing of various telehealth models but also believes that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) should allow for the use of these services when they are medically necessary instead of using an arbitrary limitation on visits. The Society urges Congress to revise the current monthly limit on physicians’ telehealth consults under Part B and use the common “medical necessity” standards for these consults in keeping with the rest of the Medicare program.
  • Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP). The Society asks lawmakers to cosponsor legislation that increases the authorization level for the GWEP program, which is the only federal program designed to develop a health care workforce that maximizes patient and family engagement while improving outcomes for older adults.

The group received tremendous interest and support on all three issues they addressed. “We had good conversations about what legislators can do to support these issues,” says Suzanne Gillespie, MD, RD, CMD, Society House of Delegates chair. “It was clear to me from our conversations that there is a greater understanding of the Society and what our members do. We were able to spend more time focusing on the issues and less time explaining who we are and what we do.”

These focused conversations clearly had an impact. “When you walk into that space and start talking about issues that are important to our patients and our field, it’s such a powerful experience. But you wonder if you made a difference,” says Dr. Gillespie. “Then the next morning you get an email from a representative’s office saying that they want to pursue the issue further with you. It’s pretty exciting.”

Karl Steinberg, MD, HMCD, CMD, Society vice president, observes, “Our Society and our profession are getting more recognition on the Hill. Thanks to our excellent public policy staff and our consultant, Sue Emmer, we have a year-round presence there; and we have better visibility. They recognize the importance and the non-partisan nature of the work we do and want to help us.”

Rajeev Kumar, MD, FACP, CMD, Society secretary, agrees, noting, “All of the issues resonated with the people I spoke with.” For instance, he says, “They all agreed that the workforce issue is very important; and they understand that we need more clinicians trained in geriatrics caring for our older Americans. Several people thanked us for the work we do, and that was very satisfying.”

All of the Hill Day participants praised the experience and urge their Society colleagues to be part of the advocacy process—starting with your representatives’ local offices. “Even a brief meeting can be very productive. They have good questions and come to understand the nuances of the issues from our perspective,” says Dr. Kumar. He also suggests offering to serve as a resource on post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) issues.

Leslie Eber, MD, CMD, State Presidents Council representative, was a first timer to Hill Day, and she recommends the experience to everyone. “It was such a tremendous opportunity. It was so empowering to talk with legislators and staffers. I was impressed by how interested they were in our issues and PALTC in general. They asked great questions, took notes, and expressed a real interest in working on these issues and with the Society,” she says. “I felt heard by everyone, and I walked away with a smile.”

The Society makes it easy for you to get involved in advocacy, even if you have limited time and experience. Our AMDA Advocacy in Action page lets you send emails and comment on key issues quickly and easily. Click here to get started.