Expand reach: Success depends on it

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One of the dangers facing the HME sector is failure to reach out to allies beyond our own tight-knit circle. The value of home care is a message many groups need to hear and embrace. Congress needs to hear it--and see it but others need to embrace it as well. Seniors groups, disability organizations, clinicians, and a wide range of community and local government groups will all benefit from better familiarity with home medical equipment and services.

The more widely the value and role of HME is understood, the more effective our advocacy will be. And the more likely it will be that we will see laws and regulations that preserve strong policy for home medical equipment and services.

When discussing HME issues with the national offices of consumer or disability groups, what the American Association for Homecare sometimes hears is, "We haven't heard anything from our members about this." Other times, they are aware of the issue but are on the wrong side of it. The AARP, for instance, recently stated it favors the Medicare bidding program, in spite of the program's severe problems and impact on access to care.

So we need to do a better job of communicating our issues at all levels--national, state and local.

Attending meetings or joining the membership of state and local chapters of consumer and disability groups, such as "Better Breathers" clubs for COPD patients and seniors organizations, is one important first step.

No one has more expertise or credibility or can serve as a better ambassador to other local or state groups than HME providers and the state associations. Many of the state HME associations are already leading the way.

* The Ohio Association for Medical Equipment Services (OAMES) has sponsored the state advocacy day of Ohio's Multiple Sclerosis Society. Kam Yuricich, executive director of OAMES, said the best part of that experience was networking with the group. She said: "I have established a great contact who is their statewide policy advocate. She told me about a group called the Disability Policy Coalition that represents numerous groups here in Ohio and we are now working together as part of a broader coalition on a Medicaid issue that could potentially affect quality and access of care." OAMES members also collaborate with a long-term care association, a home care association and a hospice association to promote information about the importance of the entire continuum of care.

* It is worth getting to know local or state chapters of the AARP and other groups that work with older Americans, such as the county's Area Agency on Aging or local senior centers and Meals on Wheels programs. The Tennessee Association for Home Care (TAHC) has asked the state AARP director to speak at their annual conference.

* State associations and individual providers have helped to support Ms. Wheelchair America events. The New England Medical Equipment Dealers Association (NEMED), among others, has provided financial support to several state programs in New England and has encouraged members to identify and sponsor Ms. Wheelchair candidates.

Other organizations to consider partnering with at the local and state level include the ALS Association, the American Lung Association, local Councils for Independent Living, Easter Seals, March of Dimes, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. This is just a small handful. There are unique groups and organizations in every community.

We have the same need to expand awareness about HME in the media. Because the home medical sector is newer and inherently less visible than other health sectors, our mission is more urgent and challenging. So we have to go out of our way to introduce exactly who we are, what we do, how we improve lives, and where we fit as an answer to our ailing healthcare system.

 It's relatively easy to introduce your organization to business or health editors at your local newspaper, radio, and television news bureaus. Offer your expertise about health issues to reporters. Discuss steps you're taking to help control the new H1N1 flu. Host an open house for the media and local officials.

 The reason is simple: Our success depends on whether or not people understand and appreciate what we do. hme

Michael Reinemer is vice president, communications and policy, for the American Association for Homecare. Reach him at michaelr@aahomecare.org.