By Peter McCarthy ND – Chair – Texas Health Freedom Coalition
For those of you whom I don’t know, and don’t know me, I have the privilege of chairing the Texas Health Freedom Coalition (THFC), recognized as the largest state level natural health advocacy organization in the United States, with over 50,000 natural health practitioners and advocates from over 20 organizations affiliated with our group.
Our moderator Tim Bolen has suggested that I share our story, in hopes that groups in other states can find value in what we have done and how we did it.
The Birth of the THFC…
Ironically enough, the THFC was born of conflict. Its birth involved some behind-the-scenes maneuvering, a palace coup, and the willingness of key leaders to work together in unprecedented ways, forming a “grand alliance” of sorts to benefit the common good.
Our story begins in December 2004. I had just taken my naturopathic board certification exam in Dallas. While there, I met a fellow examinee who alerted me to the fact the Texas clinical nutritionists and dietitians were moving two bills through the Texas legislature that would restrict the practice of nutritional counseling to their professions and medical doctors alone.
Obviously, that would put me, a newly minted board certified traditional naturopath, and thousands of other Texas natural health professionals out of business. So after the holidays, in early 2005, I started making some phone calls. In the process, I became acquainted with some of the then-leading lights of the US health freedom movement: Wendell Whitman, Clinton Miller, Joan Vandergriff, and Diane Miller, to name just a few.
Joining me in those early days in Texas was Jeannie Davis, a traditional naturopath (now retired) affiliated with Nature’s Sunshine, whose non-profit group is the Sunshine Health Freedom Foundation (SHFF). In particular, SHFF’s Texas group, then led by Gwen Johnson, would play a significant role in mobilizing the Texas natural health community. I recall vividly Jeannie’s and my trip up to the state capitol in January 2005 to drop off point papers to each of the health committees’ members’ offices. The experience was very much like visiting the Emerald City from the movie “The Wizard of Oz;” that name, the Emerald City, subsequently stuck.
We got to work quickly…
Working with my new colleagues, we stitched together a communications network to get the word out about the two bills in question, both being considered in the Texas Senate. We did attempt (unsuccessfully) to converse with the then-current leadership of the clinical nutritionists, to get them to separate their agenda from that of the dietitians, whom we considered to be the greatest threat. Unbeknownst to us, there was some considerable behind-the-scenes maneuvering taking place in the clinical nutritionists’organization that, down the road, would lead us all to the formation of the THFC.
And get the word out we did! The Texas natural health community massively mobilized, generating (by independent estimates) over 335,000 cards, letters, faxes and phone calls in a very short period of time. Senior Texas Senate health committee staffers clearly recalled what they named “the day of 100,000 faxes,” when our rapidly expanding network crushed the two bills and, in the process, created the base of what would eventually become the THFC.
Our ad hoc committee (the Texas Health Freedom Steering Committee) worked into late summer of 2006 trying to organize our fledgling group, with limited success. However, things finally came to a head one day in September 2006 when I took a surprise call from the clinical nutritionists’ attorney (and now my good friend) Rick Jaffe. Rick proposed a bold move: bring together all the heads of the Texas natural health “tribes,” including his own organization, and see what common ground we could find.
That historic meeting took place on November 6, 2006, in Rick’s office in Houston. In attendance were those same recognizable names mentioned earlier, plus all the key natural health players in Texas. I attended as the leader of the Texas Health Freedom Steering Committee. It was the first meeting of its kind in the United States.
When I walked into the meeting room, I happened to sit down next to a woman who, unbeknownst to me, would wind up not only playing a key role in forming the THFC, but also becoming a trusted friend, ally and influential health freedom leader both within and outside of the THFC.
It turns out that Radhia Gleis and her group of female CCNs in Texas had engineered what amounted to a palace coup within the clinical nutritionist organization. In the process, they had turned around the organization’s agenda, to one that was more health freedom friendly, and were a primary impetus for holding this meeting.
The four areas of agreement…
The meeting was significant in a number of ways. First, the participants agreed to cooperate under the umbrella of the newly formed Texas Health Freedom Coalition. The rationale was that a large umbrella organization acting cooperatively would be more influential, by virtue of their greater numbers, at the state legislature than a number of smaller groups, and simultaneously would be less vulnerable to attacks by the trade union organizations seeking to monopolize various segments of the health care field.
Second, since the THFC would be the actor of record, the credit for victories and advances would be shared among the groups as a coalition. Each group would play its own meaningful role, and it was agreed that no single group would claim primary credit. As Radhia so aptly stated, “united we stand, divided we fall.”
Third, our interactions among the groups would be transparent. While each group would, of course, continue to operate within their own governing structure, their THFC-related activities and decisions would be visible to all. No behind-the-scenes jockeying for advantage, no intramural squabbles, and no ego trips.
Fourth, the groups agreed to work together on issues of common interest, with no public criticism of another group’s individual organizational agendas. Those common interest items were two: advancing health freedom of choice legislation in Texas and opposing the Texas dietitians who, as it turned out, had betrayed the clinical nutritionists and were now pursuing exclusionary licensing legislation benefiting only themselves.
Additionally, every one of the Texas leaders attending that meeting did so in their collective capacity as volunteers. There were no professional state level organizational leaders, which meant that no one had an overriding personal (i.e., economic) agenda.
The final agenda item was the selection of the THFC chair. To my surprise, I was asked to fill that position. In hindsight, it made sense. The combination of my military/organizational background and the equally important fact that I represented no organization other than one advocating strictly for health freedom meant that I could assume the role of honest broker, should any intramural disputes arise.
So our newly formed, now much larger group, sallied forth from that first meeting to do battle with the health care Powers That Be in Texas. Over the succeeding 9+ years, we have had some successes, some not-so-successful initiatives but, above all, have always maintained our cooperative operating philosophy. While there are many meaningful chapters in this continuing story, a couple stand out above the others.
While we are still working to enact durable Texas health freedom legislation, we can say honestly that the THFC has been primarily responsible for running off the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (TAND; aka the dietitians) and their monopolistic agenda. Thanks to our collective efforts, after TAND’s two unsuccessful attempts to enact exclusionary licensing in 2007 and 2009, the Texas legislature told them, in effect, to not come back with that legislation again. After almost seven years, they have not.
Additionally, we worked cooperatively (there’s that word again!), and in an extra-organizational capacity, with Texans For Vaccine Choice (TFVC), Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education (PROVE), and the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) to help defeat or amend 16 vaccine mandate bills during the 2015 Texas legislative session.
What’s the point of this story?
When organizational leaders are willing to put their egos in their pockets, and work together for the common good, amazing things can occur. I offer this story in hopes that it can benefit groups in other states who may be experiencing organizational challenges of their own. We in Texas were able to overcome those challenges; we hope you will be able to use our experience to benefit your organization as well.
By Peter McCarthy ND – Chair – Texas Health Freedom Coalition