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Deputy Director Laura Guerra-Cardus wins Families USA’s 2022 Health Justice Advocate of the Year Award

We’re so proud to share that our Deputy Director, Laura Guerra-Cardus, has won this year’s Families USA Health Justice Advocate of the Year Award. In her 14 years at CDF-Texas, Laura has led our organization’s health policy work, including leading statewide coalitions, founding the SickOfItTX grassroots campaign, and most recently, coordinating national and cross-state partners to advocate for Congress to include a fix to the Medicaid coverage gap. Read the full press release here, and read Laura’s acceptance speech below:

“It is wonderful to be with you today.

Today, I am a 15-year health policy veteran, but many of you may not know that my career began at Baylor College of Medicine, where I earned my medical degree.

While I loved learning about the science of disease and the human body, what has stayed with me most are the stories and the lives of our patients. I was constantly struck by times when medicine could only provide band aid solutions for problems with much deeper roots, like poverty and racial injustice.

There are two patients whose lives have most stuck with me over the years. One was an enormously loving brother who slept every night on the floor of his sister’s hospital room. She’d had her four limbs amputated because of uncontrolled diabetes. They were very poor. She did not have health insurance and lacked the resources she needed to manage this common chronic disease. We all listened to her cry every night as she adjusted to the new reality of losing her last limb.

The second patient was a beautiful 19-year-old boy who would go in and out of the hospital with seizures about every two weeks. Without insurance, he was not able to get regular dialysis for renal failure. His illness could have been prevented with a simple wellness check-up when he was young.

These stories—of which there are many—are painful, but they are important to remember. These stories—these realities—are why we do what we do every day. They are what propel us to keep on fighting, to not give up, until every human being is given the dignity of quality, comprehensive health care coverage.

So after medical school, I decided to take the less beaten path, and turned to health policy. I was quite proud when I got my first job as the policy director for the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas. I was ready to do some good.

Quickly, however, I truly questioned what I could possibly bring to a space already filled with so many brilliant, dedicated, and seasoned health policy advocates. I remember one particularly doubtful day, what kept me going was a poem by Marian Wright Edelman:

Lord I cannot preach like Martin Luther King, Jr. or turn a poetic phrase like Maya Angelou but I care and am willing to serve.

Well, I cared and I was willing to serve, and I decided that was enough for the moment. My admiration for my fellow health advocates you should know continues to this day and is the reason why this award means so much to me. I can think of no greater praise than the support of my incredible colleagues.

Now, nearly 15 years later, as I reflect on this moment, I have three lessons that I would like to share with you.

  1. Each one of us is unique and valuable. All of our contributions are important, and when we work together and align our talents, efforts and resources, we are a powerful force! Never underestimate what we can do when we work together.
  2. We do win, so don’t forget that. But when we lose, we often take solace in knowing that the pendulum of outcomes swings both ways. What I know is that the pendulum doesn’t just swing back our way. It is not something we ride on passively. When we are down, we don’t sit, we organize, we build power, and we pull that pendulum back toward justice. It is helpful for all of us, including funders, to look at losses differently. To see them as the power building, innovative opportunities that they are.
  3. And third, what has most served me in my career is my belief that this work requires constant little acts of courage. The times when you have an idea but feel embarrassed to say it out loud for fear of being wrong or looking silly. The times when you can see something that needs to be done but think you can’t be right since no one else is talking about it or seeing it. These are the moments to speak, these are the moments when this movement needs your leadership the most!

Before I close, I want to thank all the health equity partners across the nation, especially those from expansion states, for joining us in our insistence that no one should be denied basic, life-saving access to healthcare coverage.

Our country’s tragic Medicaid coverage gap exists because our health system was designed to be structurally racist, to allow states to deny coverage to some. The gap exists because our gerrymandered, voter suppressed states are structurally built to silence the will of the people.

Continue to help us dismantle this fundamentally racist, unjust system in our healthcare and in our country. We will need your partnership moving forward to succeed and I look forward to continuing to partner with you.

Thank you again for this deeply meaningful award. Go forth, be bold, and remember this movement needs your leadership!”

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