Helping Old Lady Across The Street : ‘I Was Just Trying To Help’

You have probably heard that old joke about a Boy Scout who was determined to help a little old lady cross the street. After a number of attempts and iterations, he finally picked her up and carried her to the other side of the street, set her down on the sidewalk, and left, having completed his good deed.

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But the joke was really on him – because the lady had no interest in getting to the other side. She had wanted to stay right where she was.

We frequently receive requests to take Granny across the street. They come in the form of Unmet Needs requests from well-meaning friends and family who want an advocate to help someone they care about.

Too many of those patients are just like the little old lady, and too many advocates are trying to play the role of the Boy Scout.


What we know is that not all patients want an advocate. This has nothing to do with need; I think we can agree that almost every patient NEEDs an advocate. But for many reasons, if a patient doesn’t want help then it should not and can not be forced on him or her – no matter how family or friends feel about it.

Yet, every day we get calls, or email outreach, or inquiries in some fashion from well-meaning friends and family.

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Here are examples from a glance at the Unmet Needs List:

My friend has chronic lyme disease. She is at the end of her rope. She needs a person to help her In so many ways…My mother has been in the hospital for the past 5 months. She has been seen by multiple doctors, and all are unsure what is causing her confusion…Looking for advocate to assist 60 year old man with mood disorder navigate through paperwork, treatments, etc…My son is in the hospital in critical condition. He’s being mistreated…My friend and coworker’s brother ( only living immediate family) has been diagnosed with lung cancer and has become, just in a matter of weeks has become mentally unstable…… and many more.

You have probably heard similar stories during phone calls or in email. Someone calling you in hopes you will help someone else.

Here’s the problem: Many of those patients, like the little old lady, don’t want help; they don’t want an advocate. Further, and important to us as private, independent advocates, not all these patients are willing to PAY an advocate.

Now – agreed – they probably need an advocate. They certainly deserve one. An advocate can improve their journeys and outcomes. But for their own reasons, they don’t want one or don’t want to pay one. That’s just the way it is.

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So how do we respond to these kinds of requests from a patient’s friends and loved ones?


Don’t forget: It’s always possible that the Granny-patient doesn’t really want to cross the street!

Have you had experience with any aspect of these someone-other-than-the-patient requests? Share your story with us – and please share your own DOs and DON’Ts to help others.


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