Latinx advocates have been leaders and partners in the strong health advocacy work across the country. In Virginia, advocates played a key role in the recent Medicaid expansion victory. Policy-level organizations like the Virginia Oral Health Coalition (VaOHC) and community-based groups like the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), who worked together on the Medicaid expansion campaign, continue their strong partnership to improve the oral and overall health of communities across Virginia.

I recently sat down with Beatriz Amberman from VACOLAO and Sarah Bedard Holland from VaOHC to understand how they work together and, specifically, how VACOLAO’s organizing as part of Latinx communities in Virginia has been invaluable to the state’s strong oral health advocacy infrastructure. Two main themes highlight what makes their strong partnership work so well:

  • Taking the time to build authentic relationships: Both Beatriz and Sarah expressed multiple times how much they respect each other and like working together. Their relationship emerged and continues to be strengthened over a long-term partnership that has spanned different advocacy strategies and policy issues, such as expanding Medicaid and improving access to care. Investing in these relationships is an important component of building strong health advocacy coalitions in oral health as well as other health advocacy areas.
  • The importance of a collaborative flow of information, skills and expertise: Beatriz has been an integral member of VaOHC’s legislative committee, bringing a grassroots perspective into the room and creating a bridge between policy and community. Beatriz also brings a local perspective that might not otherwise be top of mind given the statewide focus of VaOHC. For example, Beatriz has highlighted the community impact of proposed changes to the “public charge” rule, which has resulted in VaOHC taking a public stand against this policy change and sending out information and advocacy resources to their followers via email and social media. Recognizing lived expertise as an advocacy skill that is integral for effective policy change is key. It has also been helpful for VACOLAO to have a direct connection to folks doing statewide policy work, so they can take that information back to their community.

Public Charge: Partnership in Practice

VACOLAO and VaOHC have put their collaboration into action as the two organizations work together to push back against the Trump administration’s recent proposed changes to the public charge rule, which would limit immigrants’ access to public health and social services. Changes to this rule would devastate families and worsen the chilling effect already taking place in immigrant communities across the country, where families are dis-enrolling from health programs they are eligible for, such as Medicaid, or forgoing seeking dental or other medical care for fear of deportation. Even though this policy change isn’t explicitly related to oral health, the VaOHC has followed VACOLAO’s leadership in advocating against it. Beatriz has a local focus and has brought anecdotal information about the fear many Latinx families are feeling about enrolling in public benefits or even going to medical appointments to VaOHC’s legislative committee. Because of the longstanding relationship between VACOLAO and VaOHC, Beatriz is a trusted voice who has been integral in VaOHC’s understanding of the oral health impact of the public charge rule in Latinx and immigrant communities and making sure that health remains an equity issue.

VaOHC’s recognition of the lived expertise VACOLAO brings to policy advocacy, and an advocacy strategy that is nimble and inclusive enough to support issues that seem to be outside the scope of their traditional policy priorities, provides a great example of how community engagement in policy advocacy looks in practice.

If you have questions about or are interested in getting involved with advocacy around the public charge rule, reach out to Senior State Advocacy Manager Alberto González.

Beatriz Amberman, Vice Chair of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations and Sarah Bedard Holland, CEO of the Virginia Oral Health Coalition contributed to this blog as guest bloggers.