• December 2, 2020

Providence, health care and advocacy: A voice for the community

The first U.S. hospital system to admit a COVID-19 patient worked hard to advocate that Congress fully fund a response to the crisis. Here's what they did.

Providence was the first U.S. health system to admit and care for a patient with COVID-19.  Like many hospital systems, Providence, with 51 hospitals and 1,085 clinics from Alaska to Texas, supported congressional efforts to fund a response to the crisis. 

The government affairs professionals at Providence have been navigating the advocacy space for decades, and in recent years began sharpening their digital advocacy skills. So, when the CARES Act came before Congress offering funding to support health care workers and their COVID-19 response, Providence was ready. 

“We dipped our toe in the space for a number of years and what we did prepared us,” said Kristen Downey, senior manager, digital advocacy and government affairs at Providence. “It gave us more confidence to be a little more bold in how we engaged our caregivers (all employees).” 

Providence launched its online grassroots campaign to support the CARES Act, inviting participation from its 120,000 caregivers, as well as patients and others in the community. The results were extraordinary: more than 10,000 emailed letters to Congress from caregivers and another 10,000 from those outside the Providence system—more than 20,000 connections all in just five days.

Providence is continuously proving the value and worth of its advocacy program, learning from each campaign. 

Promoting Civic Engagement 

Providence next focused on the election with education and engagement. The goals of its Vote for Health campaign were to encourage caregivers and others to register, make informed decisions and have a plan to cast their ballots.

Providence used a Capitol Canary Election Center to facilitate the campaign, where voters registered, found ballot measure information and learned how to vote safely, given the challenges created by the pandemic. “It was the backbone of our Vote for Health campaign,” Downey said. She added that consultation with Capitol Canary’s support staff has also been important. “I never hear the word ‘no,’ and the team was open to our ideas and making the campaign authentic to Providence.” she said.

Providence puts a great deal of thought and energy into messaging before it kicks off any campaign. The work is seen as a partnership requiring input from operational and advocacy leaders across its seven states. “We rely on regional leaders to tell us what works and what resonates with local audiences,” said Louise Hoy, a senior manager on the national communication team at Providence. “We listen so we have the tools that reach the broadest set of people.”  

The advocacy team works closely with its communication experts to build these plans, and this included a large, coordinated team on Vote for Health. Visibility came from an integrated promotion plan and many on-the-ground local efforts supported by Providence. 

The result was thousands of visits to the center, and large increases in traffic to Providence’s websites, both internal and external. Much of the activity was generated by caregivers. “Overall, people have been grateful,” Downey said. In a polarized political environment, our organization was able to coalesce around our values.”