For the first time in decades, both chambers of Congress will not be in session during the AHA Annual Membership Meeting. But don't let that stop you from heading to Capitol Hill to make your voice heard on matters important to hospitals.

While your representatives and senators are back home, most staff members remain on Capitol Hill. And with Congress out of session, they will have more time and attention for your issues.

Staff play an important role in every congressional office. Your legislator may be an expert on one or two topics, but it's impossible for him or her to master every issue that comes before Congress. 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. Well-informed staff members have more freedom to move beyond the politics and posturing so common in Washington and seek bipartisan solutions. In fact, annual meeting speaker Bob Woodward in a recent Washington Post column recounted how staff traditionally have been relied on to negotiate key legislative sticking points, and how our current fiscal mess might have been avoided if today's leaders were not so hands-on during recent budget talks.

The many former Hill staffers at the AHA will tell you that your legislators' staff need — and want — to hear from you.

Among the people you should get to know is the legislative assistant tasked with tracking health care issues and the chief of staff. It's a good idea to take the time to get to know the district office staff as well, given that they may be more familiar with your organization and its role in the local community. The district staff director is the legislator's main point person in the district when he or she is in Washington. He or she has a direct line to the legislator and can help move along meeting requests and other information you may wish to convey.

And don't let youthful appearances dissuade you. These hardworking staffers typically have a deep interest in the issues and specialized knowledge and skills. Round that out with the real-world perspective you can provide on how legislative decisions will affect health care organizations and the communities they serve, and they can become important allies.

That's where you come in. As a hospital leader, you represent a cornerstone of your local community, and your local economy. 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 you.

So don't be dissuaded from coming to Washington if your elected officials aren't available to meet with you. It just might be the opportunity you've been looking for.

Rick Pollack is executive vice president of the American Hospital Association. Contact him at

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