CreakyJoints advocacy interns had the opportunity to sit down with New York State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski to learn about health legislation and constituent services.
We spoke about issues relevant to members of the CreakyJoints network including:
- The need for compromise in lawmaking
- Forming relationships with committee members that can impact legislation
- The office’s value and appreciation of the voice of their constituents
One of the major points Assemblyman Zebrowski and his staff put forth was that he, and many other state legislators, truly want to hear from their constituents. We learned that constituents should never hesitate to bring up their concerns with their representative—be confident and understand that your voice matters to them. Phone calls and personal emails are the most effective way to contact your representative. PROTIP: Their information can be found on their respective websites fairly easily with a google search. Look for the district office.
It was also important to note that Assemblyman Zebrowski understands that it can be disappointing to call the office and leave a message with a constituent representative. But, as he pointed out, the way that his office functions is that even when his office receives hundreds of messages, his staff puts together a comprehensive list of issues and concerns to relay to the Assemblyman. Don’t be discouraged or deterred if you are not able to speak with your elected official immediately. They take careful attention to read all inquiries and respond.
The nature of compromise in bill-forming was another major topic of conversation. The Assemblyman mentioned that the majority of people push for healthy compromise when it comes to most issues. However, when an issue is personal, people’s emotions can take charge and they can become frustrated and confused by the process of comprising. This is especially a reality in New York, which has a Democrat-controlled assembly and Republican-controlled senate. It’s easy to see why compromise is a necessity in passing the majority of legislation.
Assemblyman Zebrowski also noted the importance of finding the ‘right’ people on committees and building strong relationships with them so that effective work can be accomplished in the future. With the help of the right people, separate bodies can join forces and accomplish tasks they couldn’t have done by their lonesome. As an example of this, he told us about his campaign to increase awareness and quality of care of Hepatitis C, a disease considered as an epidemic among the baby-boomer generation. By working with Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, the chair of the Committee of Health, they were able to pass an extremely important piece of legislation that lead to improved care of Hepatitis C and, not to mention, an entire generation of New York citizens.
Creating Change from Tragedy:
There is a lot to say about Assemblyman Zebrowski’s involvement in Hepatitis C reform as it relates to patient advocacy. This is a very personal issue for Assemblyman Zebrowski—some of you may know that his father, the late Ken Zebrowski, contracted Hepatitis C. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C many decades after receiving a blood transfusion during surgery. We learned that before 1992 blood was not tested for Hepatitis C. Even after diagnosis, Assemblyman Zebrowski saw how difficult it was for his father to receive proper treatment because of a lack of understanding of Hepatitis C. His father developed late stage liver disease and passed away.
After experiencing this tragic loss, Assemblyman Zebrowski became a powerful advocate for Hepatitis C reform. He successfully passed the Hepatitis C Testing Bill, which requires hospitals and healthcare providers to offer screening of Hepatitis C to all individuals born between the years of 1945 and 1965. This is important because many baby boomers are living with this disease and do not know they have it. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that people born between 1945 and 1965 account for 75% of Hepatitis C infection and 73% of Hepatitis C related deaths1. Because of innovative treatments, if caught early, Hepatitis C can essentially be cured.
When somebody close to you experiences a chronic disease or terminal illness, you can become their ally and have the opportunity to fight for their rights and tell their story. Assemblyman Zebrowksi was in a unique position as a state legislator and was able to play a direct role in proposing legislation to address healthcare issues. He understands his unique position, and has dedicated himself to helping his constituents.
Before we parted, the Assemblyman and his staff urged us to contact them with any questions or issues we may have—a sincere concern for our well-being was evident. If the interns could give the CreakyJoints network one piece of advice from their conversation with a legislator in New York, it would be to trust the process. This means that if you have an issue that you feel has not been addressed or is not being addressed enough, you should not hesitate to contact your representative. Even if you cannot speak directly to your legislator, trust that they will hear your message. Be persistent.
-Mack Hale for CreakyU
- United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hhs/cdc/oid/nchhstp/dvh. “HEPATITIS C Why Baby Boomers Should Get Tested.” Know More Hepatitis. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2015. Web. 7 July 16 2016. <https://www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis/media/pdfs/factsheet-boomers.pdf>.