A Week in our Capital–NCRHLA on the Rural Health Policy Institute in D.C.

The North Carolina Rural Health Leadership Alliance (NCRHLA), a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, spent an inspiring and influential three days in Washington D.C last month, attendees of the Rural Health Policy Institute hosted by the National Rural Health Association.

Laura Jane Ward, program manager of the NCRHLA, reflects on her experience at the largest rural advocacy event in the nation: 

The NRHA Policy institute was designed to be informative, including state specific data from the Chartis Group, in preparation for visits to Capitol Hill. Several members of Congress presented to share their vision and priorities for rural health legislation. I was inspired by the NRHA Government Affairs team, comprised of former legislative assistants on the Hill and devoted advocates, who advised us on how to strategize a meaningful advocacy message. They showed us how to use social media as a conversation tool and how to balance data with personal impact stories.  Our day on the Hill was action-packed with visits to Congressional offices to both North Carolina Senators and four of our members of the House of Representatives. You can read more about it, as we were fortunate to have Taylor Knopf with NC Health News accompany us throughout the day to write this article on rural health advocacy.

Rural health advocates with Representative David E. Price

I was particularly interested to hear Seema Verna’s presentation on the initiatives the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid are taking to help meet the health needs of rural communities. She promised that all new policy under development would be reviewed from a rural lens to ensure quality care for rural communities. It reminded me of just how imperative it is for rural health providers, advocates, and community members to share with their lawmakers the impact their decisions and policies have on rural communities.

Another meaningful takeaway was on an innovative approach being taken to address the impacts of the opioid epidemic. The presentation was by Lily’s Place, a non-profit that is focused on meeting the unique needs of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in Huntington, West Virginia. West Virginia, much like North Carolina, has been hard hit with the opioid epidemic. Two former NICU nurses saw that many babies were transferred to the NICU for treatment after birth, but realized the environment was too overwhelming for them to have an optimal recovery experience.

Dr. George Sigounas speaks on key priorities–telehealth, life expectancy and mortality, hospital closures, and the opioid crisis

Lily’s Place was created as a homelike environment and alternative to the NICU and also serve as a resource for mother’s facing their own recovery from opioids. The challenge they are facing, like so many other rural providers, is funding. Under the current West Virginia Medicaid program, their specific service is ineligible and they have to turn away many families that would benefit from their service. Lily’s Place was there to share their story and to advocate for change so that they can continue to reach more families.

The NRHA Policy Institute was a meaningful opportunity for me as the new Program Manager to connect rural issues from North Carolina to the federal perspective. Many of the themes that were discussed throughout the conference such as telehealth, addressing the opioid epidemic, impacts of rural hospital closures, and how to retain healthcare professionals in rural areas—resonate with the issues facing North Carolina’s rural communities.

It is the vision of NCRHLA to be the voice of rural needs, and eventually we can be the go-to resource for connecting with the rural health network in North Carolina. Moving forward, the connections made during the Hill visits will be helpful in furthering education and information sharing on rural health issues facing North Carolina.