Director's Corner: Making Better Health and Health Justice a Reality: The Important Role of Advocacy


Last week at Community Catalyst’s Annual Advocates Convening in Atlanta, Center staff, partners and guests had the chance to celebrate the important role that advocacy plays in improving health. While there is no shortage of policy ideas and solutions for improving health – whether it is making our health care system more person-centered and effective, or addressing the underlying social and environmental factors that affect health – these policy solutions simply won’t become a reality on their own. To create change, we need more consumers and advocates who are willing to speak up, share their ideas and fight to get solutions implemented.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to spend a few days with some of the amazing people who are making things happen in their communities, state capitols and in Washington, D.C. We would not be able to do our work without our advocacy partners fighting for policies that protect and improve care for older adults, people with disabilities and people with complex health and social needs, day in and day out. Nor would we be successful without national partners, including funders and thought leaders, who understand the importance of advocacy and push us to continue to be better, bigger and bolder.

We welcomed and celebrated three consumer leaders who work with our advocacy partners around the country and who came to share the wisdom and power of their lived experience along with their passion for improving health care:

  • Sandra Diaz, a newly trained Community Health Worker with Make the Road New York;
  • Anhora Snodgrass, a consumer advocate who grew up in Idaho’s foster care system and is working to improve behavioral health in Idaho through her work with Idaho Voices for Children; and
  • Debbie McCarthy-Arnone, a retired attorney who has been an integral part of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network’s outreach to educate and empower consumers affected by the state’s new managed long-term services and supports program.

We were also honored that the Grand Prize winner of our Speak Up For Better Health Award, Elena Hung, co-founder of Little Lobbyists, traveled to Atlanta to address the Convening. Elena recounted her journey over the past two years from a mom tirelessly advocating within the health care system for a child with complex medical needs to a powerhouse lobbyist and advocate defending Medicaid. Elena inspired every person in the convening’s Thursday morning plenary session when she proclaimed, “I speak up because there is no difference between me asking a surgeon to save my daughter’s life, and me asking a member of Congress to save my daughter’s life.”

Elena also reminded us that advocacy is often difficult. And this message was brought home during our visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Through powerful exhibits that tell the story of those who put their lives at risk to advance civil rights and human rights, in the United States and around the world, we were vividly reminded of the courage that it can take to stand up (or sit down) for something you believe in. Despite adversity and powerful opposition, the history of the civil rights movement (as well as the disability rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the LGBTQ rights movement and the human rights movement) shows us the power that we all have to create change and make the world better. It will take both the courage and commitment of individuals, as well as a well-organized and cohesive collective movement, to protect the progress we’ve made to date on health care and to push ever forward. We are honored to be part of this talented, passionate and courageous family of advocates and know that, together, we will succeed.