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Building Effective Programs: Coping with the Patchwork Quilt of Women's Health Issues

Sustaining Focus on Women's Health


Barbara Levy Tobey, M.S., Director, Office of Women's Health, Indiana Department of Health.

Barbara Levy Tobey provided an overview of the Indiana Office of Women's Health's history and current projects. The Office, established in 1998 by Indiana's Governor, is served by an advisory board of 38 members bringing diverse representation of women's health issues. The members bring expertise in legislation, medical issues, rape and violence prevention, incarcerated women, cardiology, osteoporosis, oncology, radiology, perinatal care, minority health, and mental health. In 1999, several legislators introduced and passed House Bill 1356, providing the Office permanence through statutory language as well as a $350,000 budget for two years.

In the ensuing discussion, workshop participants discussed how to bring about similar legislative support for women's health programs in their respective States. Participants described significant variations across States' procedures for establishing contacts with legislators. One common sentiment among participants was their perceived lack of authority to establish direct lines of communication with legislators. The legislative representatives at the workshop suggested that in spite of these concerns, there are opportunities for women's health advocates to cultivate relationships with those people in the State health department hierarchy who do have the authority to make higher contacts with legislators.

Participants identified the following key target audience beyond the legislative audience they want to influence and eventually gain as allies or partners of State women's health initiatives:

  • Senior officials within the State departments of health.
  • Private sector agencies.
  • Sister agencies.
  • The advocacy community.
  • Academia.

There was general consensus that currently, women's health advocates in most States lack a strategic approach for marketing a consistent, tailored message to the different target audiences to engage them and build support for the cause. Some States indicated that while they do have abundant public health data, they lack data on the economic impact of health issues, and so they cannot make the "business case" to legislators to gain support for various initiatives. There was a clear call for strategies that establish the impact of women's health programs on economic factors such as work and school attendance and hospital visits.

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