Advocacy is a good thing. And most advocacy—speaking on behalf of others who may not have a voice—happens close to home. It’s not complicated; our personal powers can be brought to bear on matters familiar to us. The following story illustrates how that worked in my own life.
For several years I was on the Cancer Patients Advisory Board for a large medical group in my locale. Our specific mission was to advise the oncologists and staff about patient concerns and needs. The medical staff listened to our recommendations and small, positive changes accumulated for the good of both patients and medical workers.
During this time, though, some well-meaning administrators in this medical group made some changes that did not seem to take into account the viewpoints of patients or staff. In one case, the administrators unilaterally decided to change the color of all the uniforms for nurses and support staff to black. In another decision, the supervisors made the decision to move appointment check-in procedures to a self-service, automated kiosk in the waiting room.
I was appalled at both choices. In the case of the black uniforms, I wondered whether these well-meaning leaders understood the very real cultural/psychological connection of the color black to death and dying. In the case of the kiosk, the administrators may not have considered the value of the brief conversational interchanges between patients and the check-in desk staff. During those moments, these employees were the bearers of kindness and concern. They helped calm nervous first-timers, answered questions with kindness and shared smiles and stories. In short, they projected what every medical practice wants to promote: “We (this staff) know you; that’s why we want to care for you well.” The efficient and impersonal kiosk completely removed that personal touch from staff-patient relationships.
My advocacy was simple: As a patient and advisor, I asked affected staff their opinions about each development; there was unanimous disagreement with both decisions. It was apparent that other patients and advisors shared those thoughts. I started to communicate similar feelings and questions to administrators. A few phone messages, a couple of personal conversations, an item on a meeting agenda, some e-mails to managers and other executives—and the word got back to them: These decisions could have side effects that worked against the stated objectives and identity of this excellent medical group.
The kiosk was removed within months, and the uniform directives took about a year to relax back to colorful, engaging and hopeful options.
This was advocacy in its distilled form—staff members’ voices were amplified by me and others like me. What had been overlooked in the decision-making was now front-and-center. The administrators had enough integrity to reverse their thinking and to consider viewpoints that had not come to mind earlier.
What’s this have to do with being old? Much of our persuasive logic centered on patient well-being. Because we were part of the age-related cohort of folks who deal with cancer, our ages strengthened the weight of our opinions. Our thoughts were representative of what other older adults might be thinking, and how those decisions might diminish the well-being of the majority of patients.
I tell this story to illustrate how your own advocacy could work in similar circumstances: Places where your voice has power. To be an advocate, look around for what might be wrong, what should be changed. Look for allies and people who will listen to your opinions—good relationships are always helpful. Think about who’s not being heard. Ask good questions. And remember to make positive comments—appreciation, gratitude, congratulation—part of your advocacy, too.
I want to encourage you to be an advocate in situations where the perhaps-invisible effects of seemingly small decisions cause harm, and where good decision deserve affirmation. Because there is power in being old, you can be an effective voice for good.
And your advocacy will be a good thing….
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