By Mina Kato
Vizient Senior Manager, Advocacy Communications and Stakeholder Engagement
Throughout 2023, hospitals faced increased scrutiny on Capitol Hill, with an endless barrage of negative media coverage. Behind this stands a concerted effort dedicated to fueling skepticism toward hospitals and health systems in Washington, D.C.
But this year Vizient collaborated with our providers, consistently counterbalancing those negative headlines to help reshape the perception of hospitals and healthcare providers across the nation. We regularly met with policymakers and their staff and highlighted the crucial role hospitals play in their communities. One of our unique approaches—hosting multiple Congressional briefings on Capitol Hill each year—is attended by dozens of Congressional staff and even Members of Congress themselves. In 2023, we featured three such briefings, serving as a platform to remind policymakers of the critical impact of hospitals and health systems in their communities.
Rather than focusing on specific legislative or policy "asks" this year, Vizient's briefings provided an opportunity for hospitals to share their stories and highlight the remarkable work they continue to do despite facing a myriad of ongoing challenges. This series of policy discussions, which drew the attention of more than 180 congressional staff and healthcare industry stakeholders, served to educate policymakers and enabled Vizient's providers to advocate on issues of mutual importance.
Let's dive into the impactful stories behind Vizient's three congressional briefings held this year.
Provider Pressures Persist: Hospitals' Struggles Against Financial, Workforce and Supply Chain Strains
Vizient's first briefing this year focused on the immense pressures hospitals and health systems face while they continue to provide essential community benefits and quality care to their patients. Moderated by Margaret Steele, Vizient senior vice president, med/surg, GPO services & delivery, the panel discussion featured key hospital leaders from Liberty Hospital, Main Line Health, UW Health and Ballad Health who expressed concerns about decreased reimbursements, inflationary pressures and persistent workforce shortages. Despite the mounting pressures, the panelists reiterated their commitment to patient care and highlighted their proactive approach to enhancing primary care access, providing clinical education, addressing maternal health and health disparities, and supporting patient access to care through innovative programs like hospital-at-home and rural healthcare facility investments. As the inaugural briefing for the newly sworn-in 118th Congress, it was critical to provide this foundational knowledge, especially considering the ongoing challenges faced by hospitals and the end of the public health emergency.
Beyond the Four Walls: How Hospitals are Addressing Social Determinants of Health
Recognizing the significant impact of social determinants of health (SDOH) on patient outcomes, Vizient organized a second briefing highlighting hospitals' efforts to address external factors that impact community health. The event, sponsored by Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-TX), who represents the district where Vizient's headquarters is located, featured remarks from Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Dwight Evans (D-PA), highlighting the importance of reducing health disparities and improving access to quality healthcare. David Levine, MD, Vizient group senior vice president of advanced analytics and data science, provided an overview of the patent-pending Vizient Vulnerability Index™ and moderated a conversation with leading health system experts from Norman Regional, Temple University and the University of Alabama Birmingham on their organizations' strategies to reduce health disparities within their communities, including targeted screenings, education and support for neighborhood infrastructure improvements. Since this briefing, Vizient's D.C. office continues to receive questions and feedback regarding the index, and we have continued to showcase this tool on Capitol Hill and in the administration, while promoting the various efforts of our member providers in tackling SDOH in their communities.
Communities in Crisis: How Hospitals are Addressing Mental and Behavioral Health Challenges in their Communities
Vizient's final congressional briefing focused on the crucial role hospitals play in addressing the substantial and unmet mental and behavioral health needs within their communities. The event, moderated by Julie Cerese, Vizient group senior vice president of networks, performance management, and member education, aimed to raise awareness about the challenges faced in mental and behavioral health treatment and support, such as increased demand, limited access and clinician shortages, while advocating for policy reforms to address these gaps. Houston Methodist, SSM Health and Montage Health joined forces to discuss their community initiatives and the leadership role hospitals play in addressing this crisis. Additionally, the panelists shared the various programs and initiatives their health systems implemented to help increase access and improve care quality, such as an innovative program focused on post-discharge care, a new behavioral health urgent care model and collaborative efforts with schools, families and pediatricians to promote youth mental health. The briefing was another opportunity to underscore the urgent need for improved access and better integration of mental health services. This briefing resonated greatly with the audience of Congressional staff, who stayed late, asked substantive questions and repeatedly thanked our panelists for their leadership.
Why are these briefings important?
Amplifying the voice of hospitals and health systems through congressional briefings serves several crucial purposes:
- Policy impact: By convening industry experts, policymakers and healthcare leaders, Vizient's briefings create a platform for robust discussions and the exchange of ideas, often generating recommendations that can influence policy decisions and lead to meaningful change. These interactions provide members of Congress and their staff with valuable insights into the challenges faced by healthcare providers as they remain committed to serving their communities.
- Partnerships: The events provide a unique opportunity for industry and government stakeholders to come together, explore meaningful partnerships and share best practices. Recognizing that improved patient care and quality is dependent upon the collaboration of various stakeholders, the briefings emphasize the importance of collective efforts in driving policies that best serve the needs of providers.
- Provider narrative: Coupled with Vizient's direct engagement with lawmakers, along with other D.C. provider stakeholder groups, the briefings play a crucial role in helping to reshape the negative narrative surrounding hospitals. By sharing compelling stories and evidence-backed insights, we are continually working to raise awareness among D.C.-based stakeholders about the vital role and contributions of healthcare providers.
Vizient's commitment to hosting congressional briefings has proven to be a powerful tool in championing providers' needs and amplifying the stories of hospitals and health systems and their profound impact on their communities. While briefings alone may not succeed in solving every challenge, there is no question that our collective efforts hold the potential to transform the provider narrative and rebuild trust in these crucial healthcare institutions. If you have any questions regarding Vizient's advocacy work or would like to share briefing topics of interest, please reach out to Vizient's Office of Public Policy and Government Relations.
About the author
Mina Kato is the senior advocacy communications and stakeholder engagement manager for Vizient. Prior to joining Vizient, Mina managed advocacy communications initiatives for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). She also worked in educational advancement at American University and started her career on Capitol Hill. Mina received her bachelor’s degree in political science with a focus on international affairs from the University of California, Riverside, and her master’s degree in political science from American University.