The past year I have been working with Texas Association of Community Health Centers (TACHC) through their connection to the Leading Change Network. TACHC is an association that support Federally Qualified Health Care Centers in providing quality healthcare to Texans without health insurance. As a result of changes in the federal and state budgets TACHC asked me to work with them in designing and running an community organizing campaign that will engage patients to become advocates for their own access to healthcare. I have the opportunity to work with many folks building community-run movements but this campaign has been especially powerful for me as I grew up in Houston without health insurance. I had my sports physicals at Urgent Care facilities, secretly got birth control at Planned Parenthood and used babysitting money for medicine: this campaign hits home. In addition, I’ve been impressed with TACHC’s desire to create and implement a long-term solution for the community. They want to move from a purely institutional-led model of community health to one that shares power and decision making with their patients; this encourages long-term sustainability and creates opportunities for real change in people’s lives. Unfortunately, despite these intentions it’s been hard to design a full on organizing campaign when the primary goal, to secure funding for healthcare, was chosen by TACHC.
This challenge became clear this weekend at TACHC’s annual conference during meetings with their newly hired Community Organizer, Courtney Weaver. Courtney is great, she understands the importance of developing leadership and is asking all the right questions. This weekend she and I were doing some skills training, strategy coaching and debriefing her first two weeks with TACHC when Courtney asked about the difference between organizing people to achieve a desired policy change (field advocacy) and organizing that begins out of a community’s frustration. She’s correct to raise this tension, we aren’t giving the community 100% control and opening up all options to them because it’s essential that we address the funding gap but we are trying to do this while building up the leadership of patients. Our question is; how do we successfully achieve shared leadership given this dynamic.