"They'll take your money!" said the Senator.
He laughed as he stepped into the elevator. We joined in the laughter, aware of the power differential he created and agreeing with the truth of his words.
"Everybody's up here in Tallahassee playing defense. Even if you physical therapists have nothing on the table this session you need to stay involved."
He was tutoring us now. We remained silent and nodded respectfully.
I was standing next to my former employee and the current owner of three outpatient physical therapy clinics in Bradenton, Florida. I own one clinic. Together, our combined ages just matched the Senator's age.
The Senator knew us from visits to his office back in the district. He was always cordial but I had seen him show a healthy distrust of medical professionals - his construction business paid heavy workers' compensation premiums every year and Medicaid fraud-busting was his top priority.
Could we persuade him to see physical therapists differently?
"The papers keep saying you will run for one of Florida's two open Congressional seats in 2012?" I said
"My wife wants me to retire - but I'm having a great time!"
The Senator got off the elevator to go to his committee meeting. "See you boys later!" he said over his shoulder.
Being a Key Contact
Physicians have more money than physical therapists and chiropractors have been a political force in Florida for longer than I have been alive.
So, what can physical therapists bring to compete with dollars and political precedence?
Compelling stories and a genuine focus on the patient.
Physical therapists can tell stories about helping people walk after devastating accidents. Or, we can describe simple, safe interventions that enable people to live independently - all without drugs or surgery.
Witness the effect of stories and a genuine patient focus on this improbable political victory by Larry Benz, DPT and a determined grassroots effort in Kentucky:
"Get organized, be bold, and go for it.Physical therapists are not natural political operators - that's what makes us stand out in a positive way in places like Tallahassee.
PT's don't go in front of legislators very often and when we do we have great patient testimonies, empirical evidence, and a host of intangibles that at the end of the day are easy to understand and resonate with many.
While you can never underestimate the power of the political process, you can prevail."
The Legislature is divided into two houses. The House of Representatives and the Senate make laws that govern Florida. There are 120 members of the House of Representatives and 40 members of the Senate.
We need your help.
If you have considered helping your professional association and you feel that you could share your patients' successful stories or speak up for the profession please contact Eric Chaconas, DPT to be added to the list of Florida's Key Contacts.