The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors calls it lobbying, but the Health Systems Agency calls it educating.
Whatever it is called, the board of supervisors has directed the Northern Virginia Health Systems Agency to stop it.
The Northern Virginia Health Systems Agency is a federally created regional organization charged with evaluting and planning health care in the area. The organization considers it within its mandate from Congress to contact elected officials and community groups to make knowns its positions on what the HSA considers health related matters.
But the board of supervisors, taking up a positio originally held by Board Chairman John F. Herrity, has informed the health systems agency that it considers making such contacts as lobbying and advised the agency to drop efforts in that area.
"Our position is that we are in fact not engaged in lobbying," said HSA Executive Director Dean Montgomery. He said the HSA executive committee would respond to the board directive after the committee meets April 24.
Herrity brought up the issue several weeks ago, focusing his opposition on an HSA recommendation that public money be used for abortions for women eligible for Medicaid and the HSA endorsement of legislation that would reduce the availability of firearms.
"I find it inappropriate for a publicly funded agency to spend some of its money to lobby on these issues," Herrity said earlier.
"The HSA's work in this area is very low key, we're not agressively pursuing legislators to get them to vote for our views," said HSA health planner George Barker. "We send letters to our representatives like anybody would; I don't think anybody would call that lobbying. Obviously, if we have a position on something we feel is health-related we've got to let somebody know about it."
He said the HSA legal counsel, William Kopit of the firm Epstein and Becker in Washington, had determined that the agency's informational efforts did not constitute lobbying.
Herrity had wanted to cut Fairfax County's $26,000 share to the HSA this year by 10 percent as a way to stem what he calls the agency's lobbying efforts. But the board voted 6 to 3 Monday to first advise the agency of its position before talking about funding cutbacks. Twelve precent of the HSA's $500,000 budget is funded by local Northern Virginia jurisdictions and remainder coms from federal funds.
Alan H.Magazine (D-Mason), James M.Scott (D-Providence) and Warren I. Cikins (D-Mount Vernon) voted against stemming HSA's informational efforts.
Cikins, the board representative to the HSA, called the board decision "an insult to the integrity of the (county) board-appointed members of the HSA. It's a sign to them they should be timid, and stay close to shore lest they raise the ire of a board member."
Magazine said he was not sure what informational efforts made by "the 50 or 60 other coards and agencies in this county" could be considered as lobbying and called it "unfair to single out this agency for such treatment."
The HSA's 29-member board of director includes 10 members appointed by the Fairfax supervisors. Fourteen members of the board are local citizens, considered consumers of health services, and 15 are physicians and other providers of the health care. A 17-member staff serves the HSA board.
Board Member Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) called Herrity's vocal opposition to HSA infromational activities "the efforts of an individual board member to campaign on his own behalf," referring to Herrity's bid for the congressional seat new held by Herbert E. Harris (D-Va.)
Herrity countered by saying "this isn't something I just dreamed up today; a lot of people brought this to my attention." He said they included the Fairfax County Medical Society, anti-abortion groups like Right to Life and private physicians and dentists.
Some 30 members of Right to Life, carrying their familiar red roses, attended Monday's board meeting to show opposition to HSA's position on publicly funded abortions.
Included in the HSA's responsibilities is planning health care facilities in a way that reduces health care costs and prevents unnecessary duplication of services. Herrity said he considered HSA's efforts to express positions on many issues, including more informative labeling of cigarettes and other consumer items, and more comprehensive health education in the schools "a duplication of efforts in itself. The HSa is taking upon itself the efforts now conducted by elected officials and other organizations, creating yet another layer of government with taxpayers' money."