Written by Lisa Plymate, MD, Seattle area NPA Board Member and FDA Task Force Co-Chair
Here in Seattle, what began as almost a huddle for comfort and reassurance after a highly unsettling election has now expanded almost organically to a group of 80 doctors, eager to resist tearing apart our health care system and fight indivisibly to improve our patients’ care. We first invited friends we knew to gather for a house meeting with the chair of our state’s house health care committee, asking her, “What happens in Washington state if the ACA is repealed? What will our patients do?” Simply by word-of-mouth, that meeting drew 18 doctors on a Sunday afternoon and left us with an email list of 10 others who wanted to join whatever it was that we were doing.
Simultaneously, groups in labor, nursing, education, business and various patient and retiree groups were equally upset by the prospect of loss of health insurance for so many. Overnight, a coalition of 90 leaders representing these groups got together with a plan to fight to save the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare, starting with asking constituents to visit their Republican Congress members. To find those doctors, I asked both NPA and Doctors for America to assist me in sending letters to our members across the state, searching for docs in our 4 Republican Congressional Districts. I heard back from several and was able to plug them in to teams meeting with their leaders during a legislative recess. Those letters generated responses from our area as well, doctors eager to help in any way.
We learned of other groups clustering together – surgeons who convinced the American College of Surgeons to support the ACA, University of Washington medical students instantly activated to form a brand new national movement for students, #ProtectOurPatients. We connected, and we’re expanding, feeling we should try to be under one roof within our state, where we feel we can make a bigger difference for now. We held a sign-making party, then 20 of us donned our white coats and met up at a health care rally in Seattle with our signs and a new banner. What moved us most was the folks who approached us asking, “Are you REALLY doctors – or are you just wearing white coats to look like doctors?” “You ARE – then can we take selfies with you?!” People cared that we came; they had not seen doctors out on the streets like this.
The following week our group expanded to 25, including medical students, residents and fellows, and we had two banners when we joined the Women’s March. The sense of snowballing took on new meaning for us. At our second house meeting the house was packed as we heard from our Governor’s special counsel on health care, NPA member Bob Crittendon. We’re now up to 80 members and have voted to name ourselves the “Washington Coalition to Protect our Patients.” We have a google group and a Slack account. We’re organizing while on a speeding train and need to slow down a bit – all a good challenge, and truly an antidote to feeling overwhelmed and disconnected.