05/29/2012 02:57 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2012

The Need for Advocacy Increases

With the current fiscal problems facing our country, more and more services to the public are being cut. Some of the most import services being cut are in the healthcare and services to the elderly.

Since FATE's inception in 1982, our main goal has always been to protect our most vulnerable citizens... those in long-term care facilities.

Since most citizens that are infirmed cannot speak for themselves and far too many have no families to protect them, the need for advocacy has always been there and will undoubtedly increase over the next couple of decades. About 20 to 30 percent of all Americans can expect during their lifetime to spend some time in a nursing home or rehabilitation center. Currently there are about 2 million people... mostly women... living in a long-term care facility with the number expected to grow dramatically as the population continues to age.

The thrust of social services in recent years has been to develop ways to keep the elderly out of nursing homes through respite care, home health care, adult day care centers, assisted living facilities and residential care homes. Although many are now in these homes rather than in nursing homes, nursing homes are still housing many people and government reports continue to cite alarming findings of abuse, poor care and insufficient staffing in these facilities.

The primary responsibility of inspecting nursing homes to ensure the home is in compliance with federal and state regulations lies with the state licensing offices. These agencies are funded by the federal and state governments via our tax dollars. Also involved in this process is the Ombudsman Program, which is a government funded program under the Older American's Act with some monies coming from state and local government agencies.

Given the current financial constraints and limitations shackling these government agencies, there emerges the need for stronger consumer protection through private organizations and advocacy groups. Some of these groups, like FATE, distribute newsletters about conditions in long-term care settings, respond to concerns of the resident's families and even file formal complaints with the state regulators to bring about better care and advise the general public of their rights. All of us in this field feel over-whelmed by the task and we share the dismay about the lack of improvements in spite of government attempts at reform.

Since FATE is on the Internet, we are contacted daily by people all over the country seeking help and getting answer to their questions. We have answered a wide variety of questions and have helped many families resolve issues. Some of the questions we have been able to answer and the state where the person calling us lives are:

TN... How do I file a complaint? My mother is being treated like a prisoner in the nursing home and she is not getting better.

OK... How do I get the nursing home to provide care to my mother that they are getting paid to do?

UT... We are seeking help for nursing home patients to receive better oral care. Can you help us?

MA... My father is not getting the help he needs. Staff treats him very disrespectful. Lots of things being done and given to him without my consent. Please help.

NJ... Hospital wants to send my father to a nursing home too far from the family. The hospital discharge planner says it is the only nursing home with an available bed. Can the hospital just send him there when we do not approve?

NY... I am the power of attorney for my mother. I have asked the charge nurse many times to call me for approval for any changes to my mother's care. I am never called. What can I do?

CA... My grandmother was severely injured in a nursing home. She was also overmedicated and in a stupor. When we complained, the facility restricted our visits. Can they do this?

PA... My father is in an assisted living facility. We were told they could care for him; however, he has been admitted to an acute hospital five times in two months and has lost 25 percent of his body weight. We are bringing him home. What should we do about his poor care at this facility?

FATE was able to answer these questions that should have been easily answered by the agencies that license these facilities; however, people are contacting FATE because they are frustrated with not getting help from these government agencies. With more and more government spending cuts and staff reductions in the regulatory offices in the health care arena, the need for advocacy has escalated and will continue to grow. Thus, the importance of advocating for your loved ones and turning to private organization, such as FATE, for help has never been so great as evident by FATE's workload increase of 300 percent last year. We all need to be vigilant when it comes to our healthcare and especially for those who have no voice and cannot advocate for themselves.