Reporter's notebook: Eubank reflects on UsersFirst, United Spinal alliance

Friday, February 21, 2014

FLUSHING, N.Y. – UsersFirst is nearing its three-year anniversary as part of The United Spinal Association, prompting Ann Eubank to take stock—and she couldn’t be happier.

“We’ve surpassed any thoughts of success I had for UsersFirst,” said Eubank, vice president of community initiatives for United Spinal. “More than 1,000 people take action every time we ask.”

UsersFirst is a grassroots organization that works to inform and mobilize wheelchair users when public policy affects access. The group became a division of United Spinal in 2011, with the nationwide membership organization granting UsersFirst access to its 40,000 members, more than 40 nationwide chapters and 200 support groups. About 10,000 of those members are now actively involved in advocacy, Eubank said.

The recent changing of the guard at United Spinal, with longtime CEO Paul Tobin stepping down in December and board member Joe Gaskins taking the helm, has not shaken Eubank’s confidence in the arrangement.

“I’m very excited—he’s a sharp businessman,” she said. “I think he’ll streamline a lot of things.”

Top initiatives for 2014 include fighting competitive bidding and state Medicaid policies that threaten access, as well as creating a separate benefit for complex rehab.

“When we ask for stories we get hundreds,” said Eubank. “We need them: CMS always says, ‘We’re not hearing from beneficiaries.’ We’re not going to be able to make changes unless we bring in the authentic voice of the consumer.”

Providers play an important role in helping United Spinal and UsersFirst find those voices, Eubank said. A new registration form that providers can access on their iPads and other devices makes it easy for potential advocates to sign up.