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September 29, 2021

Ballots to Bedsides: How a 20-year tradition helps more patients cast their votes

Daily Briefing
    By Kate Grattan and Matt Stevens

    During the upcoming election cycle, WellSpan Health, headquartered in York, Pennsylvania, will continue their two-decade tradition of bringing voting ballots to their patients at the bedside—ensuring each patient in their hospitals has the chance to make their voices heard in the November elections. This initiative, called "Ballots to Bedsides," has grown in both participants and volunteers each year, with 135 patients able to vote across WellSpan's seven hospitals in last year's presidential election.

    The Ballots to Bedsides process, explained

    Logistically, Ballots to Bedsides is not a light lift. Each year, just a few days before Election Day, an announcement is made to the entire WellSpan staff requesting help to identify patients who would like to vote. Nurses, caregivers, physicians, and social workers all come together to get the word out. Then, the staff confirms that everyone has the necessary materials to vote, such as a valid driver's license or ID card. Patients and staff agree that the initiative is well worth the efforts.

    Hospital staff are not the only ones who work to make this process successful. With the added help from volunteers and patient families, each patient who wishes to vote is given the opportunity. On Election Day, volunteer "runners" travel from the various WellSpan hospitals to the county courthouses and back, collecting ballots for their patients. This ballot collection is carried out through an emergency process that allows individuals with a proven medical condition (which prohibits them from voting in person) to cast an absentee ballot through a designated representative. In November of 2020, a patient from Maryland wanted to vote in the Presidential election. Despite the patient not being registered to vote in one of WellSpan's Pennsylvania counties, the WellSpan team was able to engage the family to run the ballot to Maryland to gain approval through that state's court system.

    Plans for the upcoming election cycle

    For the upcoming 2021 election cycle, WellSpan staff will begin outreach in October, and they feel confident that the number of participants will continue to grow as it has over previous years. This October, in addition to identifying which patients would like to vote, preparation will consist of working closely with government relations staff to understand the compliance and preparation work necessary to maintain the chain of custody for all ballots. Keeping abreast of the changes in voting regulations has been the largest challenge for Ballots to Bedsides in recent years. Last year, Pennsylvania changed their voting regulations four days before Election Day. As a result, WellSpan staff and volunteers had to quickly organize to make sure their system was compliant with the new rules. Although challenging, this process ended up being a great opportunity for the organization to implement a standard workflow that could flex across different counties and states.

    A pandemic did not stop efforts—it strengthened them

    The 2020 election was especially meaningful for staff and patients because Ballots to Bedsides was able to proceed despite the pandemic. Beyond their annual inpatient efforts, WellSpan patients quarantining at home expressed their own concerns about not being able to vote, so WellSpan expanded the program to patients outside their hospitals for the first time. This expansion had such an important impact that it will be continued for this upcoming election cycle. "It sells itself just because of the nature of what it is. When people are sick, they should be able to continue normal life activities, and voting is one of those activities," said Ann Kunkel, WellSpan's vice president of community health and engagement.

    Connecting patients to normalcy is one of the most impactful and important parts of Ballots to Bedsides, explained Marlene Crouse, regional director of case management operations. The program creates an amazing sense of comradery among WellSpan's patients, nurses, physicians, and staff as shown by the growing number of willing volunteers and participants each year. WellSpan employees show up with a strong voter spirit, and patients appreciate the engagement. The impact of the program is shown by the gratitude and appreciation from the patients who have been able to vote because of Ballots to Bedsides each year, as well as from the families of patients who are involved. "It meant a lot to me because I never missed a day of voting in my life," said a patient who was hospitalized with Covid-19 during last November's presidential election, "the care here is just super, they took care of me like I was a brother to them."

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