Jun 22, 2018

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Elisabeth Arenales’ speech for GIH’s Andy Hyman Award

by | Jun 22, 2018

Here is the acceptance speech from Elisabeth Arenales, Director of CCLP’s Health Care Program, upon receiving Grantmakers In Health’s Andy Hyman Award during the organization’s annual conference in Chicago on June 22:

Thank you to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Grantmakers In Health. It is a privilege to be here with the GIH community. I especially want to thank the staff and the awards’ committee for all of their efforts, for the gift of this award and for the logistical work that I know goes into making all of this happen.

I want to talk about the award itself and its purpose in celebrating and recognizing the life and contributions of Andy Hyman.

I first heard about the Andy Hyman Award when its establishment was announced at the GIH conference in San Diego two years ago. I was attending my first-ever GIH conference that day.

I didn’t know Andy, but as GIH staff talked about him and about the award, I remember thinking that he must have been an extraordinary person: passionate, dedicated, visionary and collaborative. He was clearly someone who inspired others and was exceptional in his ability to further social justice through his work in government, on mental health issues and through his leadership in advancing health coverage and supporting consumer voices at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I am honored to receive the award that was established in his name.

I want to acknowledge Andy’s family: his parents, Valerie and Dr. Allen Hyman, are here today. I am so sorry for your loss, but grateful that the work which was an integral part of Andy’s life continues.

I also want to thank the Colorado foundations that nominated me: the Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, Rose Community Foundation, and Caring for Colorado Foundation. Over the years, these foundations have been steadfast, creative and flexible funding partners. Together, they have provided the financial foundation for much of the strong advocacy work that is a hallmark of the Colorado health policy landscape.

These four foundations have provided general operating and project-based support. They have made rapid response grants so that grantees might take advantage of unexpected opportunities and respond in a timely manner to changing circumstances. They have supported nonprofit organizations from their founding through their maturation and beyond, including by helping to develop emerging leaders. They have stood by their nonprofit partners, including my own organization, during times of stress and financial hardship.

In addition to funding nonprofit organizations, these foundations have helped to meet Colorado’s need for sound data and health policy analysis by creating and supporting the Colorado Health Institute. In the early 2000s, they strengthened the advocacy field by seeding and nurturing the establishment of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, now Colorado’s unified consumer voice for health access and coverage.  They increased access to health care by funding advocacy for coverage expansion and by supporting outreach and enrollment efforts. Also, they have strengthened Colorado’s ability to develop and implement good state policy by supporting a senior health policy position in the governor’s office.

I know many people on the staff of those foundations are here today and I want to salute them for their work and thank them for their partnership, their support and for thinking of me for this award.

Finally, my mom, Duane, is here today. I want to thank her for coming. I know that I have a long way to go before I am close to being as smart, as resilient, as adventurous or as tenacious as my mother. She is an extraordinary woman. Thanks for being here, Mom, and for your understanding and support.

I thought that I would focus the rest of my remarks on legacy and the power of community.

Anyone who spends their life working towards social justice follows in the footsteps of and works shoulder to shoulder with a lot of other people.  As I stand here today, because of Andy’s work, I can’t help but think about how many people I have admired, learned from, followed in the footsteps of, and worked with over my career.

We all draw strength from different sources. Mine comes from the people I work with today and those I have worked with over the years.

No one person or organization can accomplish much alone and I have been privileged to be part of a strong consumer advocacy community in Colorado.  Together, we have been able to get a lot done over the last twenty years to increase access to health care and expand coverage.

I also have had extraordinary mentors and staff who have supported and taught me.

It has been the honor of my lifetime to work with so many community members who have dedicated their lives to making a difference: people who are willing to tell their stories, work in community, lend a helping hand, organize, protest, litigate, testify and rally in order to promote fairness and oppose injustice; people who give of themselves to make things right- or at least better for themselves, their families and their communities.

Last year, when Ron Pollack received this award, it was uncertain whether the Affordable Care Act would survive the summer.  What was at stake then was our commitment as a nation to the principle of access to health care for all.

Many of us thought, when the ACA passed, that people would no longer have to drive across multiple states to stand in line in the rain to see doctors set up in animal stalls at a remote medical fair. No longer would someone who broke their arm not be able to get surgery that make it possible for them to work again, and no longer would people die because they could not access necessary treatment, services or medications.

While the ACA survived, we continue to see its unraveling. For example, 20 states now claim, in the case of Texas v. United States, that the ACA’s requirement to cover pre-existing conditions is no longer enforceable since Congress eliminated penalties for failing to have health insurance in the Tax Bill.

Regulatory changes and financing decisions have undermined the stability of the individual insurance market. And Medicaid – the core health insurance safety net program for the poor, the aged and the disabled – is likely to cover far fewer people as states are permitted to change the structure of the program, including enshrining in a health care program for the sick and the poor the idea that you must fulfill a work requirement in order to have access to necessary care.

And it’s not just the ACA and Medicaid that are under attack. We are grappling today with the fundamental political and moral question of the scope of our responsibilities to each other;whether we are better off as a society when we leave individuals alone to thrive or fail, or when we make sure that everyone receives help when they need it in order to meet their basic human needs.

Last year, Ron talked about the consequences of the growing wealth divide in the United States.  In addition, I believe we need to consider the growing hostility to the poor in our country- and the dog whistle that underlies the rhetoric about the need to weaken or eliminate our social safety net.

The war on poverty and the reasons why we established our biggest entitlement programs are distant memories as we grapple with the question of who should have access to adequate health care, enough food, affordable housing, and fair wages.

So, what is our role in this discussion?

Since I am an advocate, it’s probably not surprising that all of you sitting in this room together seems to me the perfect opportunity to call all of us to action.

There is so much work to do.

As we move forward, I think about words like community, cooperation, coordination, connection and continuum.

The core of our mutual work is rooted in these concepts. It is rooted in community and our connections with others. It depends on cooperation and coordination, and all of our work has its place on a continuum of effective strategies.

We maximize our ability to make a difference in people’s lives and facilitate systemic change when we learn from and build upon each other’s work.

We depend on individuals, organizations and foundations that help people to meet their basic needs. We work together to strengthen our communities and support our community leaders. We change hearts and minds through effective communications. We develop and deploy data and research to educate policy makers and ourselves.  We improve systems through policy advocacy and use the courts to challenge and change the law.

Great movements and great change depend on all of these and more, and the foundation community, working together, can do much to ensure that the full continuum of change strategies is available to nonprofits as they work to advance a social justice agenda.

Thinking again about last summer, the images that have stayed with me are those of members of the disability community being arrested for putting their wheelchairs and their bodies on the line to protest in the halls of Congress in order to protect all of our rights to health coverage.

My guess is that the images that will stay with us from this summer are those now coming from ICE and the Health and Human Services detention centers: pictures of young children separated from their parents and housed in warehouses and tents. Images of crying parents who thought they were doing the right thing by fleeing horrendous conditions in their home countries to seek asylum in the United States.

Ron Pollack cited Winston Churchill last year, reminding us that he said “the U.S. will always do the right thing after it has tried everything else.”

I am going to leave you with my guide-star quotation: Dr. Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I think if we are strategic, if we work together, if we support each other,if we build on our joint efforts and if we are resilient and hopeful, we will be amazed by the progress we can make.

-By Elisabeth Arenales

Recent articles

CCLP Statement on Health and Hospital Corporation v. Talevski

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