The loss of a friend and advocate for good in the world, Jennifer Jaff, has me focusing on the importance of cherishing those who give of themselves to the greater good. The last month leaves me thinking that maybe it’s time someone talked about what it means to be a “consumer advocate.”

The word is used to both praise and denigrate individuals who spend their lives fighting for the interests of consumers on various topics. It has a clearer meaning to me, one which I hope those in positions of power honor; a consumer advocate is someone who works relentlessly to advance the rights of individuals alongside of others and in the face of and despite pressure from those in power and those with opposing viewpoints. Consumer advocates stand their ground, even when it costs them dearly, because their cause is great. Their cause is humanity.

Being a consumer advocate can take its toll. The constant fight, the battle to make things right for our constituents, can be draining. I haven’t met a consumer advocate in my years at Legal Aid and in my six and a half years at the Office of the Healthcare Advocate (OHA) who punches out at 5 p.m. There is always more work to do, more individual circumstances to address, more people to persuade, more networking with fellow advocates. Many advocates work day and night to protect and advance their consumers’ interests.

Being a consumer advocate is not often a financially rewarding career, but what it lacks in remuneration, it more than makes up for in the gratitude of consumers who have been helped by an advocate’s persistence in helping them, one by one, to get their needed healthcare, secure housing, obtain a job, or assist with any one of a myriad of other rights secured by the good work of an advocate.  Sometimes the reward is the passage of a law that instantaneously will change the lives of thousands or millions of people.

It is time to celebrate consumer advocates; they are not always given their due. There are hundreds of advocates in Connecticut who have made Connecticut a better and more accountable state in healthcare, housing, children’s welfare, human services, education, etc.  Consumer advocates sacrifice and fight to make sure that when policy is made or budgets are passed, those involved in developing policy or passing laws understand that their actions have an impact on every human being in this state. And so advocates are among the first to push for accountability in policy developments at the state and national levels.

My work is in healthcare advocacy. I am privileged to work with many dedicated healthcare advocates in Connecticut whose sole goal is affordable, quality healthcare for every resident of our state. The advocates I’ve worked with, including the late Jennifer Jaff, think constantly only of what they can do to make the world a better and fair place for our humanity. What makes these advocates great is the empathy they have for others based on injustices they’ve experienced themselves or their own healthcare struggles. It’s what drives them, and yes, it’s what sometimes frustrates them and others. It’s why we sometimes disagree with each other in trying to find the right approach to pursuing our common goals. But consumer advocates persist and keep banging on doors despite frustration and mistakes because of our belief in our cause of making life better for everyone. 

I hope that consumer advocates will be viewed by all as the dedicated individuals they are. Our state and the world would be a better place if advocates are viewed as the critical people they are in every policy debate. Next time you see an advocate, thank him or her for the work that advocate has done to make your life better.

Vicki Veltri is the state’s Healthcare Advocate.