2014 Bruce S. Jansson MSW Award

Contest Winner: Jaime Dykes
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Janice Laakso, University of Washington, Tacoma

The social problem that led to the need for an Alzheimer’s plan for our state is the sheer number of aging baby boomers. The most recent reports that came out in 2013 indicated that 150,000 people whom reside within our state have Alzheimer’s disease while 350,000, a staggering number of people, are caregivers. Additionally, our state holds the title for having the fourth highest rate of Alzheimer’s death in the United States and Alzheimer’s is currently the third leading cause of death in our state. Yet, our state is one of only six states that still does not have an Alzheimer’s plan. Even more frightening, by 2030 over 20 percent of the population in our state will be 65 and older (Alzheimer’s
Association, 2014). Having a state plan in place would relieve issues related to costs, diagnoses, treatment, and unpaid caregivers.

The purpose of our advocacy group was to convince policy makers that we needed a bill number for a state plan. Part of our effort to bring this to the attention of our lawmakers was to send out a letter to our district representatives and senators, making them aware of the need for a state plan. After that, the group registered the advocacy issue of a State Alzheimer’s plan with change.org. During that process, we created a generic letter that was sent out to constituent’s district representatives and senators. Through change.org, we were able to promote the issue on social networking sites. Most importantly, collectively, the group emailed, called, and visited, over 250 Alzheimer’s care facilities across our state. In the letters sent out to the care facilities, a fact sheet and a group photo were attached. In addition, members of the group developed a cut out paper cell phone, which was modeled after Nancy Amidei’s (a relentless advocate for policy change) paper cell phones she created to pass out to the public. The cut out cell phones had the legislative hotline number on them, as well as a link to our change.org petition. We passed out these cell phones to friends, family, placed them on car windows, and handed them out to the general public, wherever our group went. Lastly, a member of our group, who happened to be a published writer, wrote several blogs promoting the need for a state plan.

Throughout our efforts to advocate, we gained quite a bit of support. We heard back from many care facilities that let us know that they would hang up our fact sheets, pass out our information, and encourage their residents and team members to call their legislators. Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association asked our group to become members of their coalition and participate with them when they went down to the State Capitol for lobby day. In the midst of advocating, prior to lobby day, our goal changed quite a bit, as one our State Representatives introduced Senate Bill 6124, which detailed the need for an Alzheimer’s state plan. This Bill moved through the Senate within a week of
being introduced, with a 47-1 vote.

On February 18th, 2014, every member of our group attended lobby day at our state Capitol. During our time there, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with the Chair of the ElderCare Alliance. Afterwards, we were ushered to the Senate, where we were acknowledged by the House reader, and given a standing ovation by the legislators on the senate floor. During our time at the Capitol, each member of our group met with four to ten legislators to promote our desire to see that our bill be passed. Some team members went from room to room asking to speak with legislators they had prior appointments with, while others asked to pull legislators off the floor to speak with them directly. On March 6, 2011 the Washington State House of Representatives voted and overwhelmingly supported SB 6124 – Developing a state Alzheimer’s plan – 90-6! Our group strongly believes, through our continuous and collaborative effort to advocate for policy change, Senate Bill, 6124, passed.

Our group learned many things about policy making. The most important lesson we learned about advocacy was how a single voice or the voices of a few or many can make a change. This lesson will inevitably stay with us for the rest of our lives, while we continue to promote social justice and change, and as we advocate for the people that cannot advocate for themselves. As we see this bill through until the end, we will walk away, not only with a deeper understanding of how to advocate within the political structure of the states within this nation, but more importantly, that we can be effective advocates and make change in our communities, and the world. We’ve already begun the journey, by changing the lives of 500,000 local residents.

Alzheimer’s Association. (2014). Washington Alzheimer’s statistics. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/documents_custom/facts_2013/alz_f-fstatesheets-48.pdf?type=interior_map&facts=undefined&facts=facts