A partnership unique in US history—4.2 million medical and lay volunteers nationwide joining with staff specialists in 54 affiliates—the American Heart Association has the strength in numbers and is beginning to acquire the skills to gain an increase in NIH funding for heart and stroke research. But more can and should be done.
Last June, the AHA Board of Directors approved a comprehensive plan to institute a series of expanded grassroots and public policy initiatives. The plan, recommended to the Board by the AHA Public Affairs Policy Committee, has resulted in an allocation of increased resources to the Office of Public Affairs for a variety of projects to enhance the AHA’s efforts to secure additional federal funds for heart and stroke research.
For some time, federal funding for heart and stroke research has remained flat, being forced “off the radar screen” by the furor over cancer and AIDS research. Enactment of this plan will help further educate Congress and the executive branch about the impact of cardiovascular diseases on the health and economy of the nation.
Activities under this ambitious plan include formation of a national heart and stroke coalition, recruitment of celebrities, expansion of grass roots, enhancement of affiliate consultations, assessment of legislative networks, further cultivation of patient groups, conduction of a public attitude survey, establishment of an annual lobby day, and production of a video. Highlights of these initiatives follow.
The AHA is an active member of several biomedical research coalitions, but such coalitions focus on numerous disease categories, so attention to heart and stroke research is diluted. Although the AHA will continue to actively work with these coalitions to seek increased overall research funding, it is important that greater emphasis be focused on the relative lack of federal funding for heart and stroke research. Formation of a national heart and stroke coalition will allow the AHA to enhance cooperation with and activation of other organizations that have a specific interest in heart and stroke research. Speaking with a unified voice, the coalition will develop a mission, recruit members, coordinate volunteers’ visits in home districts and on Capitol Hill, and produce a periodic newsletter.
Over the years, the AHA’s Office of Public Affairs has used celebrities to testify before Congress. Past AHA spokespersons have included actors Robbie Benson, John Forsythe, and Bob Keeshan—Captain Kangaroo—and many sports figures. Celebrities bring greater congressional attention and media focus to issues, so we will recruit celebrities to help us. Members of Congress are very responsive to celebrities when they testify before Congress or visit Capitol Hill. Other organizations also use celebrities to advance their mission. For example, Mary Tyler Moore represents the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation; Elizabeth Taylor speaks on behalf of AIDS research; and Christopher Reeve, who has spoken on behalf of the arts, will most likely represent paralysis organizations.
Playing on the adage that “all politics is local,” one of the most important areas under this plan will be the expansion and more effective use of the grassroots networks. New strategies and technologies will be used to involve more internal and external audiences and to more effectively target members of Congress. This portion of the plan will assess lobbying needs and opportunities.
Complementing the grassroots expansion component, the Office of Public Affairs will work more actively and aggressively with affiliates in developing and implementing grassroots strategies to educate and involve members of Congress about the AHA mission. AHA affiliates must become more active in cultivating and influencing legislators about the need for increased funding for heart and stroke research. For example, American Heart Month, accenting heightened awareness about heart and stroke research, presents an excellent opportunity for affiliates to more actively involve Congress in activities such as tours of research facilities. Also, this segment of the plan will strengthen the “silver bullet campaign” to identify personal congressional contacts, focusing initially on the Senate and the House Appropriations Committees.
To more effectively reach legislators and other policy makers, the AHA will examine better ways to use its grassroots networks. The Office of Public Affairs will evaluate the grassroots science network and federal grassroots legislative network and conduct an in-depth analysis of the use of technologies such as E-mail, Internet, ASPEN, and fax boards to access these groups. The AHA will examine better ways to recruit and broaden the base of networkers into a system that will be more focused on issues, key contacts, and commitment.
One of the internal audiences that needs enhanced cultivation and involvement is patient groups. Mended Hearts, 22 000 members strong, and Stroke Connection, 8000 subscribers strong, provide a personal, compelling perspective on the importance of research that scientists lack. As research beneficiaries, these patients are effective advocates for increased funding for heart and stroke research. The AHA plans to further educate these groups on issues by conducting workshops and setting up booths at their annual meetings.
Congress has increasingly indicated that it is going to be more responsive to the needs of Americans. At present, the AHA has very little specific information about the public’s perceptions and support for heart and stroke research funding. A public attitude survey conducted in late fall and released during American Heart Month—the beginning of the congressional budget and appropriations processes—will enhance the AHA’s advocacy message. The survey could be released in a press conference, with copies sent to all member of Congress and key executive branch officials. Also, affiliates could use the results of the survey as part of their American Heart Month festivities and other advocacy efforts. The survey could be incorporated throughout the year in lobbying materials and field and media information packets.
The AHA actively participates in national and local biomedical research lobbying days. This plan calls for an annual heart and stroke research lobby day. Capitalizing on the congressional appropriations process, the day could begin with a breakfast or lunch on the Hill in early or mid spring, with congressional speakers, followed by lobbying visits. The event would be enhanced by AHA Science Councils holding a business meeting in Washington, DC, so that they could participate in this activity along with members of the proposed heart and stroke coalition.
Also under this plan, the AHA proposes to produce a training video. The training video would be designed to motivate AHA volunteers and staff about the critical need for involvement in public affairs activities. This video could be shown at AHA Science Council meetings, at Board and committee meetings, and at the AHA Delegate Assembly.
Copies of an advertisement developed as a part of this plan will be placed in AHA journals. It may also appear in AHA Council newsletters, other scientific magazines, and possibly as part of exchange ads.
The activities under this research plan will complement AHA’s direct lobbying activities in this area.
- Copyright © 1995 by American Heart Association