The Hospital Trustee’s Role in Advocacy

As community leaders, hospital trustees are a powerful voice for their hospitals or health systems when it comes to advocacy. They can offer legislators “real life” insights and perspectives into the challenges facing patients and community members in the hospital’s service area, as well as how legislation and regulation will affect the women and men who work every day to fulfill their hospital’s promise of help, hope, and healing.

Trustees know how hard their hospitals and health systems are working to transform the way health care is delivered in their communities. They have an important role to play in making their state and federal policymakers understand how a modernized public policy environment can help hospitals advance health in America and provide patients with the access to care they need.

Throughout the year, the American Hospital Association calls on hospital leaders to advocate on various issues on Capitol Hill, from protecting patients from cuts to hospital funding to reducing red tape and decreasing the administrative burden on hospitals… and many other issues.

When the AHA calls on trustees to step up to the plate as advocates for their hospitals and health systems, the results are impressive. For example, our trustee advocates weighed in with their senators this past summer and urged them to oppose proposals to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act that threatened to remove health care coverage to millions of needy Americans.

Some examples. In Pennsylvania, trustees joined with one health system’s employees and medical staff members to meet with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who was one of 13 Republican members tasked with drafting the bill. They called on Toomey to protect coverage and ensure that the most vulnerable patient would not be harmed by any health care legislation to clear the Senate.

One Ohio hospital trustee, J.B. Silvers, M.D., weighed in with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, on the Senate GOP’s Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal. In a Sept. 20 letter to the senator, Silvers said Congress needs to “stabilize the ACA markets.”

It is critical for hospital and health system trustees to make their voices heard with state and federal legislators. “Advocacy is part of a board member’s responsibility to their organization,” Trustee Silvers says. “It’s part of the fiduciary responsibility of a board member to address external threats as well as oversee internal activity.”

Direct political action by community leaders, like hospital and health system trustees, is needed whenever a hospital’s or health system’s ability to do the best for their patients and community is challenged.

No member of the hospital family can get results like board members, who are a respected and independent voice in the community. Trustees are not being paid to lobby, and have no economic stake in the outcome of their hospital or health system. They volunteer their time and energy because they know how important hospitals are to the quality of life and economic vitality of their towns and cities.

Hospital trustee are an important part of the healthcare system not just for advocacy.  Many have fiduciary responsibility for finance, but all have the singular responsibility for quality care, patient safety, and community access. For example, trustees have the final responsibility to review physician credentials, experience, and skills before they approve the privilege to practice medicine at their hospital.  Having dedicates—and independent—community leaders volunteer their time is the basis for quality and ethical care.

Andy Stern, founder and senior counsel at Sunwest Communications, is chairman of the American Hospital Association’s Committee on Governance. This article is adapted from his original column in the fall issue of Trustee Insights, an AHA publication.

Posted in Expert Opinions.