She was so tired that she kept putting her head down on the table during the training. She did surprise me though because she drank three glasses of orange juice. She never drinks OJ at home. But I digress.
After almost two hours, we were asked to join up with other conference attendees from our respective states to coordinate taxis and see who we would be attending meetings with. California had ten people representing it. We discovered that all ten of us would be speaking to Dianne Feinstein's and Barbara Boxer's assistants. Then we would splinter off for meetings with our local representatives. Princess and I were to speak in Ed Royce's office with a doctor from Davis, CA.
Once we met the doctor from Davis, Dr. J., I arranged with a mom I'd met the previous night to share a cab to Capitol Hill. The leaders of AACAP encouraged us to take cabs to get to our first destination and to allow plenty of time for traffic and security at the various buildings. It turned out that we had about 45 minutes before we left the hotel. I used this time to freshen up. Princess used it to catch a little bit more shut eye.
Finally, it was time for our taxi cab. Up until that moment, Princess had only ridden in a taxi twice before. Now she's a veteran since we took a cab a few more times before leaving D.C.
When we got to the building where our first two appointments were going to be held, we were prepared to go through security, but we were not prepared for the blast of the arctic wind upon exiting the car. Somehow we made our way to Dianne Feinstein's office and met up with the rest of our group.
When we finally got called into the meeting room, her assistant had us go around the room to introduce ourselves. Princess proudly proclaimed, "My name is Princess. I have Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and OCD and I like puppies and my friend Alex." Shortly after this she decided it was time to try slipping a short nap in. This was one of those moments that I decided was not worth making a battle. She was quiet and not disturbing anyone so I let her be.
At this meeting, one of the doctors introduced our key issues: 1) The workforce shortage in children's mental health. 2) The need for comprehensive mental health reform and 3) Continued funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
In Senator Feinstein's office, I shared how our family had personally been affected by the workforce shortage. One of the first psychiatrists that my daughter had seen almost five years ago had a huge caseload. As a result of this, we waited over 45 minutes for a five minute visit. There was no way my child could be adequately served in that amount of time. Fortunately for us we were eventually able to find the right doctor. Many in the U.S. do not have that luxury. Did you know that there are only 8,300 child and adolescent psychiatrists? Our country needs approximately 30,000 to adequately meet the needs of the over 75 million children with mental health issues. The average wait time to see a child psychiatrist is 7.5 weeks. Can you imagine a child with any other life threatening illness having to wait that long to get the care he so desperately needs?
Our meeting time with Senator Boxer's assistant got moved up, but Senator's Feinstien's office was late in seeing us so before our first meeting was finished a few of our group members rushed off to our next appointment to let them know we were on our way. We wrapped things up in Senator Feinstein's office and walked over to our next appointment.
As introductions were once again said around the table, Princess added that she liked Barbies to hers. I almost died, but then I remembered that mental illness is just a part of her. My wise child already knows this and shared what else is a part of her. Thankfully at this meeting Princess just yawned but did not fall asleep. Embarrassing as that was I took it as a sign that she was perking up.
I myself felt even more comfortable and shared more of our story. These were the kind of meetings where you kind of have to jump in if you want to be heard.
I shared that the reason why we need mental health reform is to ensure that all mental health patients receive the same level of care regardless of whether they have private or government insurance. In our case, Princess was able to receive fabulous outpatient treatment after her first hospital stay because at the time we had private insurance. Less than a year later we had to put her on Medi-Cal, California's government run insurance for low-income families. During the few months she was on it, she needed to be hospitalized again. Medi-Cal does not cover outpatient treatment so Princess was hospitalized three more times in two months. This actually costs the taxpayers more money not to mention the trauma it caused my family. If we had a system where care was coordinated, this would have never happened.
At the end of this second meeting, we parted ways with our new friends, but stayed with Dr. J. so we could find the next building for our third meeting. Dr. J. was fabulous with Princess. Every time she complained about being cold, her feet hurting or anything else; he just redirected her by asking her about books or movies she liked.
When we found Ed Royce's office, we still had about a half hour before it started so we found a cafeteria to eat our lunch at. I kept looking for some senators or representatives, kind of like looking for celebrities in Hollywood but without any luck.
We threw out our trash and wrapped up our uneaten food before heading back to Ed Royce's office. Princess wasn't very happy when we later had to throw out our drinks at the visitors' center.
When we had been to our representative's office before lunch, Princess noticed a cute dog in the lobby. Unfortunately for her the dog had gone for the day by the time we came back.
The great thing about our last meeting was that since there were only three of us, we all got a turn to give our input without feeling rushed. This was the meeting that Princess really shined at. She had perked up and there weren't as many adults present. She even took the time to share our Ronald Mc Donald House story.
We made sure to let the assistant know that we were appreciative that Ed Royce had supported extending funding for another two years to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This program provides matching funds to help families obtain medical insurance, who might not otherwise be able to afford it. It serves over 8 million children. Parents still pay a portion of this insurance, but it is supplemented by this federal program.
Thankfully for Princess this was our last meeting of the day. Dr. J. invited us to go with him to speak to another representative he was scheduled to speak with later in the day. I felt that Princess had reached her limit for the day so I politely declined.
AACAP had scheduled one last event on Capitol Hill, a group photo on the steps of the Capitol Building, but it wasn't until an hour after our last meeting. We discovered that there was a newly opened visitors' center there. Apparently so did a school group of about 100 teenagers. Dr. J. came to the rescue and asked the guards if our little group of three could go in ahead of this large group. They agreed, but no one told the chaperones we were going in first. As you can imagine it was a little chaotic. In the rush, Princess' head got hit by the bar on the door. She was a little dazed but had no visible bruising. A guard ushered us into the nurse's office for an ice pack, but the nurse was not there. Since Princess appeared to be doing alright, I suggested we just go to the gift shop. That was one of the best decisions I made that day. Princess found a shirt she liked and some free postcards to take back to her classmates.
We made our purchase quickly and figured out how to get back to where we needed to be for the group photo pictured below.
It had been a pretty full day so Princess and I, taxi cab pros, hailed a cab to take us back to the hotel where we relaxed until the debriefing a little later in the afternoon.
Coming soon: Part 3- Where I talk about an epiphany I had and our adventure to local sites.
A portion of our group on the steps of the Capitol Building.