Advocacy at their fingertips: Nursing homes residents are Zooming into the Capitol

June 28, 2021

When the pandemic shut down the world, nursing homes did not allow outside visitors. Instead, residents relied on Zoom and other digital or video technology to stay in touch with friends and loved ones.

Now, nursing home residents are using the same technology to advocate for better laws.

Jeanette Sullivan-Martinez, one of more than 18,000 nursing home residents in Connecticut, recently testified virtually as president of the Statewide Coalition of Presidents of Resident Councils. She has multiple sclerosis — to testify in person, she’d need a nursing aide and a van that could accommodate her wheelchair.

To testify virtually, all Sullivan-Martinez needs is someone to help her connect from her room and enough battery power to make it through the wait.

“I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to use my voice for myself as well as for all of those other residents living in nursing homes that I represent, to be able to have a voice on issues that affect us,” she told KHN.

Another nursing home resident, Patty Bausch, wanted her legislators to know she supported a raise in the monthly allowance the state provides those on Medicaid to pay for personal items.

“I know what it’s like to have no money,” she said, speaking into an iPad. “I live it.”

This year, Connecticut nursing home residents have testified on a number of bills, including legislation that would allow them to treat their rooms as their homes, and have the right to use technology of their choice for what they please – including virtual visitation. The bill passed and is headed to the governor’s desk.

“I think that people underestimate the abilities that individuals have because of the (institutional) setting where they receive their long-term services and support,” said Mairead Painter, Connecticut’s long-term care ombudsman. “Your opinions don’t go away because you had some sort of a medical event.”

Now, lawmakers are hoping to keep the virtual testimony option as a permanent change, but a bill to do so has to be introduced.

Have you testified virtually during the pandemic? Are you interested, but don’t know how? Let us know. Voices for Affordable Health wants to make sure you are heard!