At the American Hospital Association, we like to say that every day is Advocacy Day, and that there is no better advocate for your hospital than you, the hospital leader.

Successful advocacy translates the needs of your hospital and community into messages policymakers can understand and act on. No one can better explain the complexities of health care delivery and the impact policy changes in Washington would have on your organization's ability to continue delivering care than those at the front lines. As a hospital leader, you represent a cornerstone of your local community and your local economy. Your insights can help lawmakers see how payment cuts and changes in policy have real impact on real people.

So, how can you be an effective advocate? By building and sustaining relationships with your legislators. An ongoing dialogue is the best way to ensure that they understand how their decisions will impact their constituents back home. We tend to communicate with our legislators only when we want to urge them to take action for or against a certain piece of legislation. But it's also important to build a relationship with your legislators — to offer your expertise and counsel — so that when a burning issue arises, they look for your opinion and give weight to what you say.

At the top of every new CEO's list should be reaching out to the members of their congressional delegation. They need — and want — to hear from you. First, arrange a meeting, either in their home district office or in Washington, D.C. Scheduling a personal visit is an effective way to introduce yourself to your legislators and the key members of their staff with whom you will most frequently interact. Next, invite your legislators to visit. A tour provides the opportunity to familiarize your legislator with what you do and the challenges you face. Show them the programs and services you provide, and introduce them to the people at every level who make your hospital the great organization that it is. Finally, stay in touch. A strong relationship needs to be nurtured, and maintaining a dialogue is essential. Continue to reach out on a regular basis on both urgent issues and matters of policy. Remember, legislators and their staff are not experts on every issue. They rely on input from constituents to inform their opinions on legislation and policy. You want them to consider you as a valuable resource.

And don't forget the importance of building relationships with key members of your legislators' staff members; they play an important role in every congressional office. Legislators rely on good staff work to evaluate the pros and cons of proposals, inform their positions and effectively represent the people of their districts. They also rely on staff to act as go-betweens with the White House and other legislators' offices and to draft legislation. It might not always be possible to speak with your legislators, but a healthy relationship with their staff will help to ensure that your concerns are heard.

The AHA and your state association are happy to assist you in any way that we can. For more information on ways to become involved, and information on the most pressing issues facing the field, visit www.aha.org/action, or call 800-424-4301 to reach out to us.

Rick Pollack is the AHA's executive vice president, advocacy and public policy.


News from the AHA

Equity focus of IFD conference

The Institute for Diversity in Health Management will hold its annual conference June 12–13 in Chicago. With the theme "Equity: Moving Beyond Diversity," the conference will offer strategies and tools to help hospital leaders and caregivers in their efforts to eliminate disparities in care and improve quality for all patients. Visit www.diversityconnection.org.

Summit to boast big names

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, quarterback Peyton Manning and commentator Cokie Roberts will be among the speakers at the Health Forum and AHA Leadership Summit July 20–22 in San Diego. More than 1,400 health care executives and experts are expected to attend the Summit, which will focus on "Health Care and Hospitals in Transformation — Early Results from the Front Lines." Visit www.healthforum-edu.com/summit.

Integrating behavioral health

The AHA's Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence initiative released a guide to help hospitals, physicians and payers integrate behavioral and physical health services across the care continuum. For information, visit www.hpoe.org/resources/guides/1588.

Record low spending growth

The AHA issued an infographic depicting the record low growth in health care spending over the last four years, which it says is partly driven by low growth in hospital prices. These trends are leading to an improved long-term federal budget outlook; the Congressional Budget Office projects that Medicare spending from 2014 through 2020 will be down more than half a trillion dollars. Go to www.aha.org/content/14/spendinggrowthlow.pdf.

Half of RAC denials appealed

The AHA's quarterly RACTrac survey found that, among participating hospitals, 49 percent of the Medicare Recovery Audit Contractor denials were appealed, and almost half of denials were overturned. Visit www.aha.org/rac.