Advocacy in Action: A Key Legislator Visits UCLA

  • Sibert, Karen, MD, FASA
| Feb 08, 2016

The CSA capped off Physician Anesthesiologists Week 2016 with a visit by Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, hosted by James Moore, MD, CSA President, and Johnathan Pregler, MD, a CSA past president.

moore-preglerMr. Ridley-Thomas represents District 54, which covers a wide swath of Los Angeles County including Westwood, the UCLA campus, and Culver City, and is bounded on the northeast by Western Ave. and the I-10 freeway.

As a member of the Assembly Committee on Health, Mr. Ridley-Thomas is keenly interested in the problem of access to health care in California. Last year, he worked with CSA to spearhead the introduction of AB 890, a bill that would have allowed certified anesthesiologist assistants (CAAs) to practice in California. This legislation passed out of the policy committee with bipartisan support, but unfortunately has stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Ridley-Thomas co-sponsored Assembly Member David Chiu’s resolution, ARC 119, which the Assembly passed unanimously on February 1 to commemorate Physician Anesthesiologist Week 2016. The resolution commended CSA for our dedication to California health care and patient safety. He also backed CSA in our efforts to defeat AB 533, a piece of “surprise billing” legislation that—if it had succeeded—would have mandated Medicare payment rates for the care of patients who need medical treatment outside their insurance networks.

“Where the magic happens!”

Though Mr. Ridley-Thomas is a firm supporter of physician anesthesiologists, before his tour at UCLA he admitted that he didn’t have a very clear idea of what we do every day.

moore-cole-mahajan-okelleyThe tour began at the entrance to the operating rooms, where Mr. Ridley-Thomas met Aman Mahajan, MD, PhD, Chair of UCLA’s Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine, Daniel Cole, MD, ASA President, and Shannon O’Kelley, the Chief Operating Officer of the UCLA Hospital System. Donning bunny suits—an unfamiliar process for the assemblyman—he and I then followed Drs. Moore and Pregler into one of the neurosurgery suites.

“So this is where the magic happens,” Mr. Ridley-Thomas exclaimed, looking at all the complex technology in the anesthesia work-station, and the full wall of state-of-the-art imaging screens. Drs. Moore and Pregler explained that physician anesthesiologists direct the anesthesia care team—including nurse anesthetists and residents—for some 60,000 surgical cases each year, and direct teams outside the OR for many other diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

After leaving the OR, we rejoined our group and walked through the PACU, where Dr. Moore pointed out how comfortable all the patients looked because their pain was well managed. He introduced Vadim Gudzenko, MD, and Anahat Dhillon, MD, two physician anesthesiologists who specialize in critical care, and provide coverage in the PACU as well as the ICU.

Drs. Gudzenko and Dhillon escorted the group to the ICU, where Mr. Ridley-Thomas asked questions about postoperative ICU care, and met Christine Nguyen-Buckley, MD, a CA-3 resident who leads the CSA’s resident delegates as Director of District 15. He wanted to know how we can attract more students to anesthesiology careers, and agreed that one key strategy is to get junior high and high school students interested early in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the “STEM” subjects.

with-ob-nursesThe tour concluded with a visit to the labor and delivery suites, where Mr. Ridley-Thomas met two of the obstetric nurses, and learned how they work with anesthesiologists to manage labor pain with patient-controlled epidural infusions. Dr. Moore explained more about the role of epidural anesthesia in managing intraoperative and postoperative pain.

At the tour’s end, Mr. Ridley-Thomas commented more than once that he had “no idea” up to now of the full scope of the profession of anesthesiology, and agreed that most other people have no idea either. He thanked UCLA for providing anesthesiology coverage at the newly reopened Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Hospital, which is so vital to the local community, and said that he hopes it may one day attain the status of a Level II trauma center.

Value of legislator visits

From the busy physician’s point of view, this visit took little more than an hour, but it was very illuminating. It was clear that Mr. Ridley-Thomas appreciated the opportunity to learn about our field. It was also clear that even highly educated lay people, such as the assembly member and his staff, know relatively little about our specialty unless we take the time to tell them about it.

It’s difficult for a legislator to support a point of view unless he or she clearly understands where it’s coming from. Seeing physician-led care in action confirmed an opinion Mr. Ridley-Thomas has expressed before—that every team needs a quarterback, and it doesn’t make sense to take the quarterback off the team.

outside-ronald-reagan2The experience also gave us the valuable opportunity to get acquainted with Ramona Cortes Garza, UCLA’s Executive Director of State Government Relations, and other UCLA administrators. Completing our group were David Butler, CSA’s Executive Director, and Bryce Docherty, CSA’s chief lobbyist, who traveled from Sacramento for the occasion.

If you would like to arrange a hospital tour for your state assembly member or senator, the CSA would be only too happy to help you make the contact and facilitate arrangements. Simply call the office at 916-290-5830, or contact your District Director. Advocacy begins at home, and your legislators deserve to know more about anesthesiology!

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