BOSTON, MA – Amid a national landscape that includes more than 1,000 bills seeking to reshape voter access for millions of Americans, the relationship between health care, healthy communities and civic engagement has never been clearer. While health care organizations navigated a global pandemic cast against a backdrop of hotly contested national elections in 2020, their message this year is that state and local elections in 2021 merit just as much focus.
Building on successful efforts during the inaugural Civic Health Month in 2020, the coalition of more than 150 partners is now working to heighten awareness and elevate the importance of state and local elections, which have consistently low voter turnout and yet often dramatically impact the policies that shape community health. Civic Health Month partners will take action this August -- and every August going forward -- to empower patients, providers, and staff to participate in upcoming elections. Among other activities, partners will use Healthy Democracy Kits, display posters, and/or host voter registration drives to encourage eligible individuals to register and make plans to vote. Over 50 medical schools across the country will participate in the Healthy Democracy Campaign, a nationwide voter registration competition.
“Our healthcare system has long functioned as a repair shop: we tend to focus most of our attention on fixing what’s gone wrong, rather than on the social conditions driving negative health outcomes. Both matter. Civic engagement is a powerful avenue for healthcare providers and patients to play a role in addressing root causes by advocating for the needs of our communities with our votes,” said Dr. Donald Berwick, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Partners behind the Civic Health Month initiative believe strongly that better health begins when every citizen has a voice in the public policy decisions that affect their wellbeing. The coalition includes nationally prominent, long-established organizations like the League of Women Voters, the American Nurses Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. “While the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to curb healthy participation in the 2020 election, it instead provided a shot in the arm for our democracy by emphasizing the importance of maintaining access to the ballot box. Health care organizations and providers played a critical role in 2020 turnout by making sure patients had safe plans to vote, and we are continuing our efforts to integrate voter registration into the health care setting in order to protect the civic health of our patients and colleagues in the long term,” said Dr. Deborah Turner, board President, League of Women Voters of the United States.
During the pandemic, the trust in doctors and nurses reached new heights. Much like Departments of Motor Vehicles – where voter registration is incorporated into driver’s license renewal – the health system and healthcare providers can serve as an effective touchpoint in voter access. “We can create a healthier and more inclusive democracy that gives our most vulnerable patients a seat at the table. Healthcare providers cannot do it alone. But without healthcare providers, it cannot be done,” said Dr. Alister Martin, Founder and Executive Director of Vot-ER.
Post-election analyses have shown over the years that communities with higher voter turnout often get more attention and focus at the policy-making level. “High-voting communities receive more attention, responses, and resources from legislators and develop stronger community connections. Getting out the vote elevates the voice, the visibility, and the political influence of social workers, health care providers, and the people we all serve,” said Professors of Social Policy Mimi Abramovitz and Terry Mizrahi (Emeritus), Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, CUNY and Co-Chairs of Voting is Social Work.
All across the country, a number of groups have emerged that seek to give patients a stronger voice in health care policy and overall healthcare outcomes. Chris Renfro-Wallace, Chief Operating Officer of PatientsLikeMe, notes that “Empowering patients to take charge of their health is at the core of our mission. We are proud to support Civic Health Month and its efforts to elevate the voices of all patients by encouraging participation in our elections. We believe that patients are the experts when it comes to how to live with disease and that their experiences should be central in shaping policy to address unmet needs and improve patient outcomes.”
There are several ways for organizations, communities, and individuals to participate in Civic Health Month:
1. Sign up to be a Civic Health Month Partner:
Health and civic engagement organizations can join the coalition by committing to take one action during the month of August to promote healthcare-based voter registration efforts.
2. Order Vot-ER’s free Healthy Democracy Kit or order custom Kits for your institution:
This lanyard and badge backer display a QR code and text-in number that connect patients to our digital platform for voter registration and mail-in ballot requests.
3. Participate in the Healthy Democracy Campaign:
Medical students and schools can sign up to compete in the Campaign and receive recognition for their commitment to civic engagement and health equity.
Nonpartisan Statement: Civic Health Month is a nonpartisan effort. Our goal is to increase civic engagement among all patients and providers because much of our healthcare system and healthcare experiences are determined by the policies our elected officials implement. We are nonpartisan because we believe in a truly democratic process and aspire towards an American democracy that is inclusive to all. Civic Health Month does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for office, nor do we take any positions on specific policy issues. Rather, we hope that everyone takes it upon themselves to be politically engaged and informed so that they can vote for those that best represent their interests. Any and all views expressed by individuals or partners are their own and do not constitute the views or position of Civic Health Month as a whole.