Election Day is only two months away and the debate over what to do about the national deficit is heating up. Voices on all sides are clamoring to be heard. Make sure yours is one of them. No one can do a better job of explaining the challenges facing health care than you. You are a critical player in our ongoing national dialogue on the future of health care in the United States. Your mission of caring and your place in your community as a trusted resource, and often the largest employer, means you have political capital.

You understand the fiscal challenges our nation faces. But adding to these problems by simply cutting payments to providers for Medicare and Medicaid services will make it more difficult to ensure that patients have access to care.

We must speak up now, loudly and often, because without our input, legislators will default to the easiest path — arbitrary payment cuts to providers — instead of offering real solutions to the fiscal problems our nation faces.

Legislators and potential legislators need to understand the ramifications their decisions will have — not just on the future of our health care system, but on the future of our nation — for years to come.

So what can you do?

First, exercise your right on Nov. 6 to vote for the candidates you feel are best for the country, your community and your hospital. And encourage the members of your hospital family to get out and vote. Many voter registration deadlines have passed, but you can still make sure they're aware of deadlines, voter resources, polling hours and your organization's policies on time off for voting.

Second, exercise your power to inform and influence. You live health care delivery every single day and know the challenges you are meeting to keep the promise of health care to your community. Now is the time to get out there and meet with your legislators and the candidates for office to ask meaningful questions about where they stand on health care issues.

Finally, exercise your leadership to engage your entire hospital family in this effort.

Your employees, physicians, nurses, trustees, volunteers and the vendors who depend on your business also need to understand what's at stake and feel empowered to advocate on your hospital's behalf.

At www.aha.org/wecarewevote, you'll find message cards spelling out the challenges confronting hospitals, what needs to be done and what changes should be avoided. To help you make your case, you'll also find fact sheets on critical changes many lawmakers are considering. In addition, we've drafted a series of questions you can use to start the conversation and get candidates for federal office on the record on health care, particularly Medicare and Medicaid.

The hospital field is more than 5 million strong, and our elected officials need to understand that we care — not just for patients, but about the health and well-being of our communities and our nation. And we vote.

Rick Pollack is executive vice president of the American Hospital Association. Contact him at rpollack@aha.org.

News from the AHA...

ASHE honored for efforts to prevent surgical fires
The Food and Drug Administration recently honored the AHA's American Society for Healthcare Engineering for its contributions to the agency's Preventing Surgical Fires initiative. Launched with ASHE and other partners in October 2011, the initiative provides online tools and information to help health care professionals, hospitals and patients understand the factors that contribute to preventable fires and adopt risk-reduction strategies. ASHE helped to develop the educational materials and has promoted the initiative through its publications. Over the past year, the initiative's online resources have been accessed nearly 200,000 times and six new organizations have signed on as partners, bringing the total to 24.

ASHRM conference next month
The American Society for Healthcare Risk Management Annual Conference & Exhibition Oct. 7-10 in Washington, D.C., continues the quest of "Getting to Zero: Eliminating Preventable Serious Safety Events," a multifaceted patient safety and health care risk management initiative that aims to drive down the incidence of preventable serious safety events in health care organizations. It will include a closing keynote, "The Impact of Election 2012 on Healthcare in America," with columnist and CNN analyst Paul Begala and Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee and a political analyst for MSNBC. For information, visit www.ashrm.org.

Online Career Center
The National Healthcare Career Network, founded by the AHA, Boxwood and the American Society of Association Executives in 2008, aligns more than 265 health care-focused trade associations and professional societies on a common online platform that allows users to tailor their job searches to their specific skills and career goals. It also offers a variety of tools for health care workforce and career development. For additional information, visit AHACareerCenter.org.