This year’s Advocates for Arthritis event, to be held Sept. 14 and 15, will take place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, its purpose remains vital.
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The event will once again unite rheumatologists, rheumatology professionals and patients to speak with legislators and staff to boost awareness of rheumatology on Capitol Hill. Participants will have the chance to meet with their Congressional members via teleconference during the event.
The Rheumatologist got a sneak peek into how the process may work when we had the chance to speak with Michael Williams, a legislative assistant specializing in healthcare for Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), and Tanner Palin, who is Rep. McBath’s communication director, to learn how they are communicating with constituents now and what messages have resounded for them.
TR: How are legislators connecting with constituents through virtual events?
Mr. Williams: [Remaining connected with constituents has] been challenging, but the thing I’ve found most helpful is Zoom calls, where I can see patients and providers. There’s a richer emotional connection through Zoom compared to a phone call, and that makes those patient and provider meetings special. Conference calls work better if there’s a preexisting relationship.
To me, it’s most important that virtual calls have a group that is small enough that I can see everyone, and everyone has a chance to speak and interact. Groups of four to five people at a time are enough to get a good interaction with everyone. There were times in the Hill office where we would meet with 10 to 12 people. You can look at everybody and read body language, but that’s a lot more difficult with virtual things.
TR: Where are Capitol Hill staffers working now?
Mr. Williams: Most of us are working from home at the guidance of the Attending Physician of the United States Congress. Working at home has its advantages but there’s not a clear break when you are working or when you are not. All day, you’re either on the phone, Zoom calls or responding to email. The day has much less structure than it used to. There are no big blocks of three-hour hearings. It’s a different vibe, but it leaves an opening for someone to say, ‘Do you have 30 or 40 minutes here?’ We’ve had more time for constituent calls and doing legislative work. It can be a benefit to [constituents] if you’re flexible.
TR: What have you learned about the impact of the pandemic on rheumatology?