Chaney Yeast is the Director of Government Relations & Medical-Legal Project at Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines. She has an MSW from the University of Iowa and a JD from Drake University. Chaney's been at Blank since 2001.
How did you get your start in government relations and advocacy?
I attended law school at Drake with the intention of becoming a child abuse prosecutor. However, part way through, I realized I was more interested in the policy side of things and earned a legislative certificate along with my law degree. Even though I’ve been with Blank Children’s Hospital since 2001, my current role was formed in 2015 as a way to centralize advocacy efforts already being done by passionate people at Blank. Today, I help connect the dots between our passionate providers, staff, patients, families and advocacy efforts. I also work to build relationships with and mobilize community partners to advocate for Iowa’s kids.
What’s been surprising, rewarding and/or challenging about your role?
Though it’s not unusual for hospitals to have a government relations role, Blank is in a unique position in that we get to focus on being a voice for kids—as opposed to dedicating resources to other issues like health care finance and regulation. Here is the rewarding part—we help educate kids and their families how to advocate and empower them to share their stories with policymakers. A child’s story being told in first-person has much more weight and influence than if that same story was told by someone else. Policymakers want to hear from their constituents, and improving children’s health and well-being is fundamentally a bipartisan issue that everyone can agree upon.
Is there anything challenging about your work?
I think a challenge comes from a tendency among child advocates to paint ourselves into silos. It’s easy for us to advocate for our individual focus area, but that mentality comes at a cost. Instead, we need to frame child health and well-being as a continuum that considers the big vision and how each of our focus areas contribute to the end goal of healthy children and healthy families.
In your opinion, what are big-ticket topics as we look ahead to next year’s legislative session?
Children’s mental health will be a big one. Child advocates will be working to garner political will to push this forward and finally create a comprehensive, statewide children’s mental health system. Medicaid and hawk-i are also important topics. Right now, the conversation around Medicaid in Iowa is predominately about the challenges Medicaid managed care has faced in serving the elderly and disabled populations. Those are important issues to be addressed, but over half of Medicaid recipients in Iowa are children. We need to spend just as much time talking about the importance Medicaid and hawk-i play in protecting children’s health in our state. Consequently, in other states when the sole public focus is on the Long Term Services and Supports population in Medicaid, kids are short-changed on the prevention, early-identification and early-intervention resources to ensure their basic health care needs are met.
The Children’s System State Board recently met for the first time since its formation earlier this year. How do you see the board and its role playing out in Iowa?
In the past we’ve had legislatively created work groups on children’s mental health, tasked with making annual recommendations to policymakers. Each year these work groups presented excellent recommendations, but the attached price tag always got in the way of progress towards a comprehensive system. A 'patchwork' approach ensued—the legislature would partially fund programs or implement pilot programs in certain areas of the state. The outcomes of the pilot programs, or 'Learning Labs' as they were called, were phenomenal, but the success never translated into statewide implementation. However, I think things are changing: Governor Reynolds’ executive order has elevated the issue that Iowa lacks a children’s mental health system, and mental health as an important campaign issue is being routinely highlighted by both major political parties in state and local races. There’s a groundswell on this issue. Children’s Board members are empowered to say publicly what mental health services are necessary to help the well-being of all children in Iowa. We have never had the political spotlight on children’s mental health like this before, and I’m optimistic we make substantial gains over the next two years.
What drives you and your work?
My roots have always been in social work and working with and for kids. It is my passion. Working in policy is a tremendous opportunity to have a far-reaching impact. That excites me.
How do you spend your time off?
My two kids—one’s at UNI and the other is in high school—are avid baseball and softball players. I love watching the game and supporting my kids in pursuing their passions.