2011 APHA Public Health Fellow in Government
André Stanley, MPH
Being selected as the recipient of the prestigious 2011 APHA Fellowship in Government was what I have come to call a “transformative” experience as it allowed me the opportunity to undertake what most Americans rarely get to do; see the United States House of Representatives from the perspective of a congressional office.
My fellowship officially began January 31, 2011 with U. S. Representative Brad Miller (NC-13). I served as his health legislative assistant (Health LA) in his Capitol Hill office. I chose Mr. Miller because I had a connection to his office as constituent of NC-13 (I lived and worked in Raleigh, North Carolina before moving to the Washington, DC area). In addition to health, i.e., the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid, my portfolio of issues included Social Security, labor, disability, child and family issues and gun control. During my year on Capitol Hill, I learned about the organizational and institutional structure and culture of the U. S. House of Representatives and about its legislative processes and procedures. C-SPAN became my best friend. I found it fascinating and very satisfying to work for a member of Congress who understood the ramifications of the health and health care legislation that he was asked to co-sponsor and was supportive of most of it. It was also very satisfying to meet with Mr. Miller’s constituents from North Carolina who came up for “Hill” visits. With the exception of the experienced advocacy groups, many of the people with whom I met were ordinary people who wanted better health care services and continued Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security benefits. As the Health LA, I met with individual constituents in Mr. Miller’s Washington, DC office to discuss various health issues.
What was striking about these visits, especially the ones with average citizens, was that they were mostly concerned with the particular diseases with which their families were struggling. They didn’t want the government to reduce or cut funding for research or services for diseases like ALS, cancer, hemophilia, lymphoderma and psoriatic arthritis, just to name a few, especially during this time of fiscal uncertainty. During one visit, I heard the gut-wrenching story of a family’s struggle with their son’s battle with ALS, which is incurable and leads to death within five years of diagnosis. The mother cried as she pleaded for Congress not to cut funding for ALS research. Naturally, it was very easy for me to convey her sentiments to Mr. Miller and, of course, he voted in favor of the pending measure to continue funding for research to find treatments and cures for this and other terrible diseases.
While it was exciting just to be on Capitol Hill, there were less exciting tasks that a legislative assistant was expected to accomplish, such as writing constituent letters. NC-13 constituents from all walks of life wrote to Mr. Miller on a variety of issues. Hundreds of letters came in on a weekly bases and the expectation was that they were to be answered. Fortunately, the office used a system called IQ, which captured and organized individual letters into batches. The batches were then organized into issue categories in which one well-written letter could answer hundreds of individual letters on the subject. The real work came in setting-up the batches and understanding Mr. Miller’s position on the various issues.
The following are some things I found particularly helpful during my fellowship that made my experience even more fulfilling:
- I took the opportunity to attend committee meetings and hearings on the congressman’s committees of jurisdiction. Members of Congress were debating or providing oversight on issues that I work on.
- I accompanied Mr. Miller on a visit to the district where I met the staff and observed the congressman in action as he addressed constituents in “town hall” meetings or individually in the district office.
- I read all I could about the legislation in question. Mr. Miller would always ask specific questions about a particular legislation and as his Health LA, I was expected to know the answer in order to advise him properly.
- I tried to meet and network with as many people on the “Hill” as possible and develop relationships with them because you never know how those relationships may serve you or where they may take you in the future.
- I increased my knowledge and understanding of the organizational and institutional structure and culture of the U. S. House of Representatives and its legislative processes and procedures. This knowledge makes you an invaluable resource.
Another benefit of being a fellow is the opportunity to attend the many educational briefings and receptions convened on the “Hill” intended solely for congressional staffers. There I met staffers from other offices and had the opportunity to network and sample great food and beverages. In addition, I brought the doughnuts! Being from North Carolina, the staff particularly appreciated Krispy-Kremes (as opposed to Dunkin’ Donuts), which originated in Greensboro. There is a Krispy-Kreme store conveniently located at the DuPont Circle Metro station (south entrance). The “hot light” is always on in the morning! I did this at least once per quarter and I was always in their good graces.