Advocating for Our Upper Valley Public Health Priorities

Training attendees discuss advocacy issues with facilitators during small-group breakout session.

On March 4th, 2020, the PHC hosted our first bi-state advocacy training at Kilton Library in West Lebanon. The training was facilitated by two of New Futures’ Community Engagement Coordinators (Jess Wojenski and Pedro Altagracia), as well as Bi-State Primary Care’s Director of Vermont Public Policy, Helen Labun.

This training follows the PHC’s multistep initiative to expand upon our public policy capacity. Pursuant to the legislative breakfast we hosted mid-September, the Public Health Council deemed advocacy trainings as our next best step. We hope this event is the first of many trainings. An advocacy training such as this serves each of the PHC’s three guiding principles: collaboration, education, advocacy.

Advocacy Skills

The event lasted about two and a half hours. In the first hour and a half, three facilitators covered advocacy basics, such as the legislative processes in New Hampshire and Vermont (i.e. how a bill becomes law, how many representatives each state has, how to prepare an effective testimony piece, and how to contact legislators). The facilitators fielded general questions as well as questions specific to each state and an individual’s respective interests.

After this portion of the event, participants broke up by state to have more intimate discussions with their states’ respective expert(s). The hour allowed attendees to ask any question they had about advocacy in their work areas. For no specific reason, it seems the conversation on the New Hampshire side tended towards more niche topics such as sexual assault advocacy and best practices for older adults looking to advocate. On the other hand, the Vermont conversation was dominated by questions for community nursing projects.

Following the event, we asked participants to fill out a survey to indicate how valuable they felt the event was. In general, participants responded positively to the training and found it to be an event ripe for learning, led by informed and helpful facilitators. However, there is still room for improvement on the points of contacting legislators and testifying on health-related issues. We will aim to cater our next advocacy trainings to these points.

More About New Futures and Bi-state Primary Care:

New Futures:

New Futures is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to advocate for and with New Hampshire residents to improve health care and wellness public policy in the state. This organization focuses on areas slightly different from the PHC: alcohol and drug policy, general health policy, early childhood policy, access to treatment policy, and children’s behavioral health. They do significant work on advocating for policy which aids New Hampshire families and children, for more information on this project click here. New Futures has the capacity to provide general and issue-specific advocacy trainings to the general public at no cost. These trainings equip community members with the skills to better advocate on health-related issues in their respective communities.

For more information on New Futures’ trainings offerings click here.

Bi-State Primary Care:

Bi-State Primary Care Association is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that aims to support individuals from New Hampshire and Vermont in their ability to access Community Health Centers, with the goal of providing quality, affordable health care to all. This organization also has a robust public policy capacity. By regularly communicating with legislators, policymakers, non-profit leaders, Bi-State advocates for their priority areas.

For more information on Bi-State Primary Cares’ policy agenda in Vermont, click here, for New Hampshire, click here .

Where do we go from here?

The Public Health Council views this event as a great step forward, towards our goal of an expanded public policy capacity. Our three guiding principles, collaborate, educate and advocate were each touched upon through this event. Firstly, this event was collaborative in nature, as it provided an opportunity for individuals from two different states to convene, share experiences and lessons learned through their own experiences. The diverse array of stakeholders who attended the event included community health workers, folks involved on nursing projects within the Upper Valley, The Dartmouth Institute representatives, and even community members who came as individuals.

Secondly, the event’s educational dimension came through our facilitators who shared best practices and case studies on advocacy in the two states; there was also profound learning between attendees. Lastly, our goal of advocacy was certainly touched upon, as our PHC members and visiting community members gained a step-by-step approach to public health advocacy in the two states.

Our public policy capacity work doesn’t stop here. In the coming months, we will be working to develop:

  • Policy briefs timed in accordance with legislative sessions;
  • Resource area on our website to help connect legislators with facts, best practices and a means to connect with public health advocacy groups in NH and VT; and
  • Planning for future advocacy training sessions, likely catered more towards specific priority areas than general advocacy.
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