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Maryland/DC Society Volunteer Goes the Extra Mile

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April 10, 2014

The group from Maryland/DC pauses in front of the Capitol.

Last week more than 130 members of the AARC Political Advocacy Contact Team (PACT) made their way to Washington, DC, to lobby members of Congress about HR 2619, the Medicare Respiratory Therapist Access Act.

Carolyn Williams, RRT, from the Maryland/DC Society for Respiratory Care, went above and beyond to get the message across, bringing eight fellow therapists, 13 students, and two patient advocates along for the ride.

But this year’s Lobby Day is just one in a long line of AARC volunteer efforts for Williams—with many more to come.

Carolyn Williams and Brittney Cunningham, a student at the University of the District of the Columbia Community College get ready to hit Capitol Hill.

Garnering support

With such a large contingency in DC for this year’s Lobby Day, Williams and her group were able to meet with legislative staff members from eight of their 11 legislative offices, which included two Senators, five Representatives, and the Washington, DC Delegate to Congress.

“We reinforced the message that if passed, HR 2619 would amend Medicare Part B to cover pulmonary self-management education and training services when furnished by qualified respiratory therapists in the physician practice setting,” says Williams. “This would include Medicare Part B beneficiaries who have been diagnosed with COPD, asthma, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary fibrosis, and cystic fibrosis, and their physician felt they would benefit from self-management education and training.”

Having two patients along for the visits helped drive home the need for these services. “They explained how they were personally affected by the services they received from respiratory therapists while in the hospital and stated that the education about their disease and proper use of medication and devices is what they need to maintain a decent quality of life,” says Williams.

Leticia Bottom and Carolyn Williams regroup during Hill Day, getting ready to tackle their next visit.

Why not?

The patients also said they felt such education should come from the specialist with the best ability to reinforce key management principles at every office visit and emphasized that this is not the type of care they are receiving when they go to their doctors today.

Williams says many of the legislative offices were surprised such services were not already engrained in the physician office setting. “Most of the legislative staff understood the need for self-management education but had questions about why wasn’t this being offered to patients.”

Legislative staff for Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Rep. John Delaney, in particular, were impressed with the bill and said they would encourage their bosses to co-sponsor the legislation.

On to the next big thing…

Carolyn Williams says she and her colleagues were pleased with the visits they were able to make during Lobby Day and hopeful that HR 2619 will soon have some new cosponsors. While she’ll continue to keep track of the bill’s progress through these legislative offices, this long-time AARC member is already turning her attention to her next AARC volunteer activity—the USA Science & Engineering Festival coming up in Washington, DC, later this month.

Designed to inform K-12 school students about careers in science and engineering, the event is expected to draw more than 250,000 students and parents, along with more than 5,000 teachers, and is considered a premier opportunity for the AARC to get the word out about opportunities available in respiratory care.

Williams is serving as the Association’s go-to person onsite when it comes to organizing the booth. “We will be highlighting some of the many things that we do as respiratory therapists,” says this dedicated volunteer. “We will have transport therapists in full gear—although not wearing the helmet—who will be demonstrating the use of a transport ventilator, and we’ll also be demonstrating the proper technique for using a vest for chest PT, and mannequins to show the skill of CPR and intubation and pulmonary function testing.”

She’s currently working to find an RT polysomnographer who will agree to come out and show off the RT’s role in sleep as well.

The epitome of “volunteer”

AARC Associate Executive Director-Education Shawna Strickland, PhD, RRT-NPS, AE-C, FAARC, says it is volunteers like Carolyn Williams who are making a real difference in the AARC’s ability to get things done.

“I cannot express how valuable Carolyn is for our patients, our profession, and our organization,” says Dr. Strickland. “She is dedicated, energetic, and intelligent. She never says ‘no’ and she never lets hiccups in the system get her down. This woman is the epitome of ‘volunteer.’”