Washington Health Policy Institute Immerses Attendees in Legislative Process

Posted: June 2, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: June 2, 2009 at 8:12 am

By Marjorie Musick

This week, Mason’s Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics (CHPRE) in the College of Health and Human Services is hosting its 17th annual Washington Health Policy Institute.

Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson

According to Tim Henderson, acting deputy director of CHPRE and director of the Washington Health Policy Institute, the advent of a new presidential administration makes this conference particularly timely.

“What we will tell the students when they come to the institute is that they couldn’t be in Washington at a better time. The timing is excellent because health care reform is beginning to be debated in Congress this summer. The attendees should be poised to make a difference given the new administration’s health reform priorities. We will encourage participants to make the most of this exciting opportunity,” says Henderson.

Growth and Change Over 17 Years

The Washington Health Policy Institute, begun in 1992 by Hazel Johnson-Brown, the founding director of the Center for Health Policy, served as a small forum mainly for area nurses interested in health policy. Over time, the institute grew into something much larger. This year, 92 health care professionals from 20 states will converge upon the Arlington Campus from June 1 to 5. Institute attendees will interact with high-level players in the health policy-making process and learn about current and emerging health policy issues on the local, state and national levels.

In 1996, Mary Wakefield, then CHPRE’s director, spearheaded an effort to grow the institute in terms of national reputation and size. Considered one of the nation’s top rural health care professionals, Wakefield was recently appointed by President Barack Obama as administrator of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the agency that helps deliver health care to those uninsured and underserved by our current health care system.

“Mary was the one who really put the institute on the map and was integral to growing it into a Mason event with national appeal,” says Henderson.

Lectures, case studies and interactive discussions familiarize attendees with the federal budget process, the roles of various federal agencies, the interplay of state and federal policy-making, the influence of the media on legislation and other topics.

Learning How to Make a Difference

At the annual Health Policy Institute, participants learn about advocacy and visit congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

At the annual Washington Health Policy Institute, participants learn about advocacy and visit congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

“The Institute provides a unique opportunity for students from across the country to get firsthand, on-the-ground exposure to how health policy is made right here in Washington, D.C.,” says Henderson.

“They’ll learn from prominent professionals who work full-time as policy-makers and advocates. Participants will engage in rigorous debate with seasoned health policy experts who come to Mason. They will also spend a day on Capitol Hill watching legislators at work and influencing their decisions through appointments they make with individual lawmakers from their home districts.”

Henderson notes that the major benefit of the institute has been its impact on the participants, many of whom become actively involved in advocating for health policy for the first time at the conference.

“One of the things that most of the students realize after attending is that they as individuals can make a difference. They themselves can be directly engaged in influencing health reform by working for organizations such as state nursing associations and other health care advocacy organizations. Some of them even make a career change and go into policy-making full-time,” says Henderson.

Conference speakers include a mix of Mason faculty experts and industry insiders:
•    Michelle Artz, associate director of government affairs at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
•    Lisa Eckenwiler, director of health care ethics at CHPRE
•    Jack Hadley, professor in Mason’s Department of Health Administration and Policy
•    P.J. Maddox, professor and chair of the Department of Health Administration and Policy
•    Alan Morgan, executive director at the National Rural Health Association
•    Bob Phillips, director of the Robert Graham Center for Policy Research at the American Academy of Physicians
•    Frank Purcell, director of federal government affairs at the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists
•    Pegeen Townsend, senior vice president of legislative policy at the Maryland Hospital Association
•    Shirley Travis, dean of Mason’s College of Health and Human Services

Institute attendees are eligible to apply to the Policy Research Mentorship Program, an initiative conceived three years ago by Henderson to encourage participants to become engaged in original health policy research. Selected participants will be mentored in conducting and disseminating research for one year by members of CHPRE and the Department of Health Administration and Policy, and will be invited back to the following year’s conference to present their findings.

Additional information concerning the Washington Health Policy Institute is available online at hpi.gmu.edu. Questions concerning this event should be directed to Tim Henderson at 703-993-1850 or thender1@gmu.edu.

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