Ageism, isolation, and misconceptions about gerontology are all issues that the vulnerable elderly population faces (Brojeni, Ilali, Taraghi & Mousavinasab, 2019). As Yamada et al. (2015) point out, however, the issue of healthcare disparity and healthcare inequality of the elderly is one of the biggest issues because it underlines all the others: if the elderly population does not even have sufficient access to care, it is unlikely to be able to battle the effects of ageism, isolation or ignorance about gerontology. Healthcare costs have doubled since the 1990s (Yamada et al., 2015), and this puts an added burden on the elderly population, whose resources are finite. Yamada et al. (2015) put it this way: “as healthcare costs rises, more of the increasing costs are transferred to certain disadvantaged populations, and patients would have to spend a considerable share of their healthcare costs out-of-pocket” (p. 1745). In other words, the cost increases of healthcare are shifted onto vulnerable populations, and the reason for this is simple: they cannot advocate for themselves and too few advocates are speaking up in their defense on the injustice of this. While access disparity for the unmet needs and delays in care of vulnerable populations is often the result of the complex arrangement of health care policies, the federal government through the legislative branch could create an easier way for the elderly to gain equity in healthcare. For example, Congress could pass a law that eliminates the out of pocket expenses that elderly persons must pay for care. This paper will discuss how healthcare advocates can aid the elderly population, ethical concerns that should be considered as health advocate workers shift from a community setting to that of a business.
How Healthcare Advocates Can Aid the Population
Three ways in which healthcare advocates can aid in addressing and/or delivering vital healthcare practices to the elderly population are 1) to organize, inform and rally the community, 2) get engaged politically so that legislation can be passed that will support greater equity for the elderly population in healthcare, and 3) to work with seniors directly so that they know they are being supported.
Organizing the Community
Organizing the community is one of the most important ways in which healthcare advocates can aid a vulnerable population because ultimately it is the community that is going to need to band together to effect real change (Maryland & Gonzalez, 2012). One of the aims of organizing the community is to raise awareness about the issue. If no one knows why there is a problem, no one is going to do anything about it to address it—such as writing a congressman or volunteering at a nursing home. Information is power, so when one organizes the community with the aim of spreading information, raising awareness, and empowering the public to act, the healthcare advocate can make sufficient strides in helping the elderly population—simply by getting others educated and involved in the struggle.
One way to do that is to host community forums. Community centers are great locations for hosting these kinds of forums, as the public is going to know where they are, they are easy to get to, and they can hold a good size crowd. The healthcare advocate can invite members of the elderly population to talk to the public or they can speak on the behalf of the elderly community by sharing their stories and experiences, whether they touch on the inability to pay for care or the isolation they suffer by being marginalized and victims of ageism, and so on. Financial issues, transportation issues, depression and withdrawal are all risks that the elderly face—and making those risks known to the public is what can begin to help change the situation by inspiring the public to act. As Community Health Advocates (2015) shows, the advocate can partner with local organizations to further promote education and assistance to the vulnerable population and ensure that its needs are being met.
Getting information online and out to other users is another great way to reach the extended community. Because this issue is not one that is limited to any one single community but rather impacts the elderly population all over the country, it is important to have a way to get information to a wider, nationwide audience. One way to do that is to use online services like blogs, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and video streaming services like YouTube to create educational material that can quickly and conveniently be shared by users even if they are all over the world. Raising awareness can really effectively be done by creating viral campaigns on social media using hashtags on Twitter to gain traction with others who want to support the initiative. Even relying on crowdfunding to help with...…terms of closing the gaps in healthcare disparity between the elderly and the rest of society.
When the advocate shifts from the community to the business setting, the temptation is to be more concerned about the financial side of things—i.e., whether the organization is meeting its own financial needs, whether the financial needs of the vulnerable population are being met, how the organization will acquire funding and so on. What has to be remembered is that there is more than just financial considerations in advocacy work. The advocate also has to be mindful of the emotional and social needs of the population. Finances will not solve all the problems, and though they are one part of the overall issue, the emotional and social aspects also have to still be addressed. Ethically speaking, the advocate has to be sure to maintain a social and emotional connection to the population—otherwise he risks becoming socially and emotionally disconnected from them. This in turn will prevent him from doing his duty by them, which according to deontological ethics means that the advocate for the elderly has a duty to advocate for all their needs and not just focus on the business side of things.
Healthcare advocacy for the elderly should focus on organizing the community, engaging with politics, and reaching out to the population itself to make sure its needs are being met. The advocate must focus on each of these three areas regardless of whether he is situated in a community setting or a business setting. What I have learned by doing this assignment is that advocacy is not just a one-stop affair. Health advocates really have to be engaged on multiple levels and must really dedicate their lives to fighting for the rights and needs of the population they are representing. They have to always be looking out for and protecting the people—whether that comes by way of meeting with the community, giving presentations so as to raise awareness about the needs of the elderly and how to address them, using social media to spread information at a national level, interacting with politicians to help promote or craft legislation that would close the gap in healthcare disparities, or interacting directly with the elderly population and volunteering or getting volunteers who will come to their residences to speak to them and visit with them.
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