There’s a bridge along the Delaware River in Mercer County, N.J., that’s famous (at least to those of us from the Garden State) for the large white lettering on the south side that reads, “Trenton makes, the world takes.” On Monday, dozens of the most influential healthcare leaders in New Jersey gathered in Trenton to discuss the Federal Stimulus Bill and to speak with legislative representatives about the importance of IT in healthcare reform at the N.J. Chapter of HIMSS’ first Legislative Advocacy Day.
More than 40 hospitals sent representatives, several of whom were CIOs, to make the case to government officials that health IT initiatives can increase quality and reduce costs, and therefore should be a top priority when decisions are made regarding stimulus package funds. The hope is that what was made in Trenton a few days ago can benefit the entire state, if not the entire country (“Trenton makes, the country takes?”).
For me, the day offered further proof of just how engaged CIOs and other leaders are in legislative matters. Before taking my seat, I ran into two CIOs who have appeared in Healthcare Informatics — Rich Temple, chief information and business intelligence officer for AristaCare Health Services (South Plainfield, N.J.) and Tom Pacek, CIO at South Jersey Healthcare (who is also involved with the Delaware Valley and Pennsylvania chapters). Some of the many other hospitals represented included AtlantiCare, Hackensack, Somerset Medical Center, Meridian, St. Barnabas, Newark Beth Israel and more.
The event included several speakers, who addressed the crowd before leading small groups to the capital building to hold meetings with lawmakers. Among those who spoke at the event were:
· NJ HIMSS Chapter President Neal Ganguly (also CIO of CentraState Healthcare System), who provided a summary of the stimulus package, specifically what it means for the healthcare IT industry;
· HIMSS Senior Director Tom Keefe (based in Virginia but N.J.-educated), who urged leaders to take the opportunity to represent the chapter, not just a hospital or vendor;
· Bill O’Byrne from the N.J. Department of Banking and Insurance Office of eHIT, who discussed the ways in which funds from the ONC budget (which ballooned from $60 million to nearly $2 billion in one year) can be allocated;
· Dr. Kennedy Ganti, chair of the HIT Commission, who talked about the need for health IT leaders to serve as educational resources for legislators;
· Joe Carr of the New Jersey Hospital Association, who emphasized the role health IT can play in getting the economy back on track, citing the problems New Jersey has had with hospital closings in the past year and urging all present to aid in convincing legislators to protect healthcare funding.
In its first year, the NJ HIMSS Chapter’s advocacy day seemed to be a success; if for no other reason than the fact that so many influential people were in attendance. According to Tom Keefe, at the first HIMSS Advocacy day, held in Oregon in 2006, just six representatives were in attendance. Just three years later, 14 chapters are holding their own events, meaning that in 14 different states, legislators will hear firsthand how vital health IT is and how much funds are needed, from those who live and breathe it every day.