Salk Health Activist Fellows Develop Policy Strategies to Advance Issues in Pennsylvania

Fellows Amber Edmunds, left, and Mikaela Moore present their work during the Salk Health Activist Fellowship finale.

During a highly charged midterm election season, fellows from a diverse range of healthcare disciplines joined the Jewish Healthcare Foundation's Salk Health Activist Fellowship to develop effective advocacy strategies at the state-level. On November 17th, at the culminating finale for the fellowship, the 33 participating fellows had the opportunity to present their strategies to influence key health policy issues to a group of their peers and JHF staff members.

The Salk Health Activist Fellowship, one of the Feinstein Fellowships, is an incubator for emerging health activists seeking to build effective advocacy skills. This year's fellowship was focused on state-level legislation where more and more health care decisions are influenced or predetermined. If health professionals want a system that ensures quality, safe, and equitable care, they must become adept at influencing policy. Accordingly, the Salk Fellows had the opportunity to practice essential communication skills to grab the attention of the public and the legislature and devise effective advocacy strategies on major health and social issues.

Sessions covered education around the legal and political systems and processes, case studies on effective advocacy, allyship as it pertains to developing an advocacy campaign, building an effective case for support while connecting with your audience, and engaging with legislative staff to better understand how to present and advocate for a cause in a way that will result in action. The fellowship featured presentations by esteemed experts in case-making, Medicaid, HIV criminalization, women's rights, and the legislative landscape. The fellows were then able to collaborate with their peers to develop skills that can be used in their day-to-day careers and during their journey as health activists.

Fellows discuss their thoughts and experiences during the fellowship finale.

 Fellow Grace Checo, a Master of Public Health student in Infectious Disease Management at the University of Pittsburgh, said, "Prior to the Salk Fellowship, my thoughts on advocacy were a blur. I knew advocacy was important, but I was not familiar with what happened behind the curtain or how to be effective. After this fellowship, I feel more encouraged, motivated, and equipped to be involved with advocacy, and it seems like a more realistic goal."

At the finale, the fellows explored the challenges and opportunities at the crossroads of health care and human rights related to seven advocacy topics: abortion rights, language barriers in health care, HIV criminalization, food insecurity, mental health care access, access to quality health care, and maternal and infant health. Some examples of the strategies that the groups identified were having strategic conversations with legislators and sponsors of specific bills; designing student-centered rallies on college campuses; introduction of state-level mandates; identifying opportunities to leverage current resources; and developing education advocacy campaigns.

Fellow Erika Silberman, DO, a Master of Health Administration student at Pennsylvania State University, said, "The Salk Health Activist Fellowship has provided me with thoughtful content and the skills and tools to drive change according to the issues that matter most to me. It has been an enriching experience and I'm so appreciative of the opportunity."

Thank you to the guest faculty featured throughout the fellowship sessions including: State Representative Aerion Abney, PA House of Representatives; Amal Bass, JD, director of policy and advocacy and interim co-executive director at the Women's Law Project; Donna Cooper, MA, MPA, executive director at Children First; Connor Dalgaard, community activist and Vassar College student; Jon W. Davidson, JD, senior staff attorney for the LGBTQ & HIV Project at the ACLU; Erika Fricke, MA, executive director of the Health Committee for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Democratic Caucus; Tiffany Manuel, PhD, president and CEO of TheCaseMade; Aasta Mehta, MD, MPP, medical officer, the City of Philadelphia and OB/GYN Clinical Faculty at Pennsylvania Hospital of Penn Medicine; State Representative and Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Dan Miller, PA House of Representatives; Orville Morales, MBA, senior director at TheCaseMade; Morgan Overton, MSW, staff in the Office of Management & Budget for Mayor Ed Gainey; Luciana Randall, MRC, executive director of Autism Connection of PA; Ayala Rosenthal, Teen Leadership and Teen Wellness Initiatives at The Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh and student at Touro University; Joseph Vernon Smith, Autism advocate and photographer; and Laval Miller-Wilson, JD, executive director at the Pennsylvania Health Law Project and board Chair of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

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