This past week a group of students, a professor, and I went to our state capital to lobby on the March of Dimes Advocacy Day.
I think the March of Dimes is a great public health organization. The MoD has been the leading non-profit organization for infant health in the U.S. since 1938 when founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to find a cure for polio. Today the MoD works for healthier, stronger babies. The mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature births, and infant mortality. The organization funds research to understand problems and find solutions, helping moms have full-term babies and healthy pregnancies. The MoD also provides support to families of preterm infants.
I had never been lobbying before and I wanted to see how it was done. I think lobbying is a great way to try to let your representatives know what issues are important to you, so they keep them on their mind when they are voting! Also, it provides them with information.
This year's MoD Advocacy Day focused on two issues: Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD) screening and a Clean Air Act.
Critical Congenital Heart Disease causes structural damage to the heart and is present at birth. This heart defect causes severe, life-threatening symptoms and requires medical intervention (such as surgery) within the first few days, and some cases hours, of life. It can be detected and treated before there is a problem. It can be identified using a non-invasive and painless method called pulse oximetry (A monitor is placed on the end of your finger or toe to measure the percent oxygen saturation of hemoglobin in the arterial blood). Most hospitals already have this device, and actually already screen infants for this before discharge. However, not every birth facility does so, especially in rural areas. As there are so many other newborn screenings to prevent infant morbidity or mortality in place, this would add a very quick and simple one that would only cost about $5-$8 per infant.
The second issue is related to the harm of secondhand smoke on pregnant women and babies. Smoke exposure during pregnancy can cause babies to be born premature or at low birthweight. Also, babies exposed to smoke are more likely to die from SIDS, are at greater risk for respiratory issues such as asthma, pneumonia, eat infections, etc, and may experience slow lung growth.
Another issue that I was able to bring up was Booster Seat legislation that has been in the works in my state for years. This isn't a March of Dimes project, but one that I am working on for a class advocacy project. Apparently, my state is one of only two in the nation that has no legislation in place requiring booster seat use for children ages 4 - 8 who are under 4 ' 9 ". These children are too large for car seats but not appropriately restrained in an adult seat belt. When these children are in a car crash with only a seat belt designed for an adult body, they are 59% more likely to be injured. Booster seats raise a child up so the belt fits over their hip bones so that they do not experience what is called "seatbelt syndrome" - injuries to the spinal cord, torn liver, spleen or bowel, and internal bleeding.
Interesting to note was that all our discussions had to include these points:
1. How does this save money - I feel like this is a "what's in it for me?" type of argument. But the argument in all of these cases was, of course, it would save massive health care costs if all of these issues were prevented.
2. Ideology. We ran into issues where the legislators don't like "mandates" - particularly the conservative ones.
3. Who is leading the bill. Apparently this is important, though I haven't yet figured out why. So they can decide based on if they like or hate that person?
I highly recommend attending an advocacy day in your state if you ever hear about one. They trained us on our talking points, split us into groups for who would see which people, and gave us food and things to hand out to the representatives and their aids. Seeing the busy in-session house of representatives and senate was lots of fun - basically they just leave their doors open all the time so anyone can come try to catch them and talk to them. There are people walking around all over the place! And, we got to go inside and walk around on the House floor. Great fun!
The March of Dimes - March for Babies is coming up! If you haven't already, I highly recommend that you either sign up to walk or find someone who is walking and donate to them. This will be my third year participating!