“You have an army.”

By Eric Borgerding, WHA President & CEO

May 07, 2019

Being the president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, being part of a talented and dedicated team representing some of the best health care in the country, is a true honor. I’m reminded of this multiple times throughout each year, whether it be at a WHA Board meeting, spending time with member leaders and their staff, watching legislation that our team crafts and advances become law, writing WHA’s annual year-end report, touting Wisconsin’s latest AHRQ ranking or sharing a stage every year at the WHA rural conference with my friend and close partner Tim Size, CEO of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative. There are many reasons to be proud of WHA, but perhaps no more so than our annual Advocacy Day, especially this year.

About five years ago we hit the 1,000 mark in Advocacy Day attendance (a number that quintupled during the preceding 10 years) and have been able to sustain that level of turnout ever since. The fact that this many people from one industry, and at a single association’s event, continue traveling to Madison for a full day of learning and lobbying is unequaled in Wisconsin, and perhaps the nation. That’s testament to great work by the WHA staff, who seamlessly pull off this premier gathering while crafting relevant programming that draws hospital advocates from across the state. This show of support not only makes an impression, it has a massive impact.

Again this year some of the state’s top elected officials, including Governor Tony Evers and four members of the powerful Joint Committee on Finance, looked out on this sea of hospital and health care champions with awe and admiration. “Wow, you have a heck of a lot of people here,” Governor Evers said to me as he took the stage to deliver the lunch keynote. “You have an army,” Rep. Even Goyke said as he settled into his chair for the legislative panel.

But Advocacy Day is about more than numbers. It has become a can’t miss opportunity for leading state politicians and personalities to share their opinions and debate, in a respectful and substantive way, some of the most pressing matters facing Wisconsin health care. This year it was a mix of present and past, the latter including relevant reminiscences from former Governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. More than a walk down memory lane, his comments were timely lessons in leadership, bipartisanship and seeking and achieving common ground.

And when it came to the issues of today, the legislative panel (always a favorite element of the program) was one of the most informed and substantive issue dialogues we’ve had, and there have been some good ones. Whether Medicaid expansion, access to and reimbursement for care, mental health, dental therapy, or opioids, each panelist clearly explained their views and concerns … and we pushed them to find common ground. We were also pleased to welcome Governor Tony Evers who, in addressing his first WHA Advocacy Day, took the opportunity to do some advocacy of his own around the health care initiatives in his state budget.

After an issue briefing from the WHA staff, whose command of the policy and political aspects of Wisconsin health care is unequaled, the newly dubbed “WHA Army” descended on the State Capitol to become lobbyists for a day, armed with information and knowledge. They met with 130 (out of 132) legislators or their staff, delivering a unified hospital message on key issues, boosted by their proud and unique stories of high-quality health care from every corner of the state. Yes, Advocacy Day was a huge hit this year, but don’t just take my word for it. Hundreds of attendees responded to our request for feedback (I read every single comment), with 98.84% indicating they were very satisfied/satisfied with the day. Despite those highest ever satisfaction ratings, with your help, we will make 2020 Advocacy Day even better!

Which brings me to my real point … none of this would be possible without the support and dedication of our members. None of it. We know it’s not easy to find time to come to Madison for an entire day. But you do. You make the time to get here, and even more importantly, you make the commitment to be an advocate and a champion for Wisconsin hospitals and health care.

Advocacy Day is a 1,000-person partnership, fostered by a deepening and expanding relationship with our members that continues to flourish, and is NEVER taken for granted.

On behalf of the entire WHA team, THANK YOU for your support and making WHA’s 2019 Advocacy Day one of the best ever. See you next year!

This story originally appeared in the May 07, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter