Be an Advocate!




Let your voice be heard and learn how to be an advocate! Your efforts can make a difference in nursing home care. Our Beginner's Advocacy Guide will help get you started.

Click here to download Beginner's Advocacy Guide

How To Get Information About Your Nursing Home

When you have "issues" with the quality of care in a nursing home - whether you find the care unacceptable, or believe that it could be better - it is important that you understand that, many times, the "issues" are not only the result of decisions made by the staff or owners of the nursing home. Rather, the decisions they make are affected by, and sometimes the direct result, of decisions made by the Illinois legislature to pass laws or refuse to pass them.


The Illinois legislature meets every year, usually between January and May. And every year legislators decide whether to pass laws that affect the well-being of nursing home residents. You can have an impact on the decisions they make.


Many people believe that politicians are influenced solely by money, including the political contributions they receive. If that were true, we can promise you that ICBC would never have been successful in any of our work with the legislature, because we make no political contributions, and are not involved with raising or directing contributions made by others.


Legislators are motivated by more than money. And even money is the means to an end: reelection, or elevation to a higher, more powerful, more visible or more secure position. So regardless of whether you make political contributions, what you want should - and often will - matter to your legislator, both because it will influence how you vote next time, and because legislators, as do we all, want to do what is right, and want to be perceived as doing what is right.


Relatively few citizens ever communicate with their legislators about any subject. When they do - especially when the subject is not one of the few "hot-button," headline-making issues - their representatives pay attention.


We don't want to turn you into a professional lobbyist. We do want to encourage you - ok, urge you - to get involved in helping your legislators decide what actions to take by informing them what you want, why you want it, why it is important to their district, and how [s]he can help.


Remember, the word is inform. Not "threaten," not "yell." Your purpose is always to give your legislator reasons to vote in a certain way, or take other actions to help nursing home residents.


We're also not here to give you a comprehensive class in grass-roots political activity. Rather, we want to give you enough basic information for you to feel comfortable and be effective.


Whether you communicate in writing, by phone, or in person, always remember you have two goals:

1. You want to influence your legislator's decision on a specific piece of legislation;

2. You want to build a relationship with your legislator that will make you a reliable source of information on important issues, both now and in the future.

We're going to go from the easiest, least intimidating, to what takes the most time. Do what you can. If you want help, ask us.

Legislative Basics

Legislators vote both to decide if a bill should get out of the committee to which it is assigned, and, if the bill does get out of committee, whether the bill should pass. Only the legislators assigned to a particular committee can vote about whether to allow it out of committee; all legislators can vote on whether the bill should pass. If a bill gets out of committee and then passes out of the House or Senate, it then goes to the other body to be voted on. A bill does not become law unless it passes both houses.


A bill on any subject can start in either house. All bills are numbered. Bills that start in the House are labeled HB [number.] Bills that begin in the Senate are labeled SB [number.] When a bill passes one house and goes to the other, it keeps the first two letter (HB or SB) and the same number.


You can find the actual text of a bill by going to and choosing the number of the bill you want to see. When you choose a particular bill number, you can read the whole bill (choose "Full Text" at the top of the page,) and see its current status, including what committee it is assigned to and what votes have been taken on it.


Phone Calls

While it can take weeks or even months for a bill to get assigned to and then heard by a committee, once it is assigned, the process can move really fast. If you want your legislator to know how you want her/him to vote on a bill, the easiest way to say so is with a phone call.


To find your legislator's phone number, go to the General Assembly website. Legislators have an office in the Capitol in Springfield and another office in their home districts. Call the Springfield office if the legislature is meeting the day you are calling, and the district office if it is not.


Before you call, make sure you know the number of the bill you are calling about. If the bill is in committee, it helps to know which committee.


Here's what to do:

When you call, say your name and address, and what bill you are calling about. If you are calling on behalf of a group - for example, your family council - say so. [Remember: it has more impact if members of the group call individually. And having as many friends and relatives call as you can persuade to do so - especially if they have worked on the legislator's campaign, or made campaign contributions - has more impact than just you calling.]


It the bill is in committee, say which committee. Describe the bill in one sentence: "This is the bill that allows unlicensed nursing assistants to give residents medication." Say what motivates you to call - for example, "My mother is in a nursing home, and I think this bill would make her care worse/better." You can ask if your legislator has a position on the bill. Then say what you want: "I'm calling to ask Representative XYZ to vote no/yes on the bill."


Instead of leaving a message for your legislator, you can ask to speak to her/him. If [s]he is not available, ask to be called back. Especially if you are a constituent, there is a good chance [s]he will call you back.


If you do want to speak to your legislator directly, be prepared with a short explanation of why you support or oppose the bill. Start with your one sentence description of the bill, and then explain in three or four more sentences why you support or oppose it. If your legislator has questions, answer them if you can. If you can't, say you will call back with the information [s]he wants, and then do so as soon as you can. Don't wing it: you must always say only what you know is true. If your legislator seems opposed to your position, try to feel out why, and if there is any information [s]he could be given that would change her/his mind.


If your legislator votes as you have asked, call back to say thank you. If [s]he doesn't, and another vote is coming up on the bill, don't be discouraged. From the information you have, consider whether you want to redouble your efforts.



As with phone calls, letters should go to your legislator's Springfield office if the legislature is in session, and to the district office when it is not.


Because it takes real work to write a letter, even a few personal letters to a single legislator can have an impact. As for form letters where the only personal touch is a signature: the important thing here is numbers. Of course mailing a letter is not useful when you need to reach a legislator quickly. If you are more comfortable writing than calling, but time is short, you can write a letter and then fax it to your legislator. Most legislative fax numbers are listed along with other contact information on the General Assembly website; if your legislator's number is not listed, you can call her/his office to get it.


A letter to your legislator should start out by saying that you live in the district. It should also say what bill you are writing about. As with a phone call, explain why you care about the issue, and what you want your legislator to do about it. The legislator needs to know how this bill will affect people in her/his district. Unless there are several closely-related bills, the general rule is: one bill, one letter.


A few days after you have written, you can follow up with a phone call to make sure your letter was received, and to ask if your legislator has read your letter and has any questions. You may want to ask to speak with your legislator about the issue. You can ask when you call if [s]he has made up her/his mind about the issue, and what [s]he intends to do.



Different legislators treat e-mail very differently. Some read their e-mail every day, and respond as they would to phone calls or letters. Others are so bombarded with garbage e-mails that they make no real effort to stay current.


Your best chance of having an e-mail considered is to include the subject matter of your e-mail (such as a bill number) in the "subject" line, and put your address on the top of the communication. You should also include a phone number where you can be reached: this makes it more likely that you are who you say you are.


As with a letter, keep it brief: who are you, what you are writing about, why you care, how the bill will affect people in the legislator's district, and what you want.



a) Introductory / Background Meetings

For you to be an effective advocate with your legislator, [s]he needs to know who you are and why your opinions matter. Meet during an unpressured occasion when her / his focus is on you. That way, when you want her/him to take action on a particular bill or issue, [s]he can put it in context, measuring what you want against how credible and persuasive you are. The best course of action is to call your representative or senator to schedule an appointment in the legislator's district office before the legislative session starts. Explain what it is you want to meet about. Ask how much time you will have for the meeting. (Half an hour is good.) You can go with a few other family members, or your local ombudsman. At best, the people attending will have worked on the legislator's campaign, or be campaign contributors.


Before the meeting:

Research your legislator. Go to the General Assembly website and read the page for your legislator. You can find out about campaign contributions made at the Board of Elections website.

Figure out what common ties you have: friends, church or synagogue, community organizations. If there is somebody close to the legislator who can express an interest in your being accommodated, arrange for this.

Learn what positions [s]he has taken on nursing-home-related issues.

Make a list before the meeting of what you want to talk about, and who will say what. Plan for the allotted time. Assign jobs: one person leads the group, one person takes notes. All of you have an obligation to remember what it is you want to convey, and stick to it.


At the meeting:

Introduce yourselves (names, where you live, maybe what kind of work you do) and explain why you are interested in nursing home issues.

Ask about her/his personal experiences with nursing homes and talk about what your experiences have been. You want a conversation, not a lecture. If you are asked a question, make sure your answer is completely accurate. If you don't know an answer, say so, and include the answer as part of your written follow-up.

Discuss the impact of current laws or rules that are relevant to the issue that concerns you.

If you have specific legislation in mind, or other kind of help, fine: talk about the issue, and what you want the legislator to do. (See information in (b) below.) If there is no specific bill, even better. Your goal is to become a reliable source of information about nursing home care, and of the impact of future legislation on residents and families.

If you have a problem you're not sure how to solve, ask the legislator for advice and help.

If you have written materials for her/him to read, keep them to no more than a couple of pages. A position paper on a bill should never be more than one page.

Stay within the allotted time.

If you think the legislator would be influenced by visiting your nursing home, consider inviting her/him to visit, unannounced, with you as tour guide.

After the meeting:

Follow up with a thank-you letter that includes a summary of what you talked about.


b) Meetings on specific bills:

Meetings in the legislator's home district may be harder to schedule when the legislature is in session, but they are likely to be less rushed, and interrupted less often. Especially towards the end of the session, it may be possible to meet only in Springfield. How much time you have to schedule the meeting depends on where the bill is in the legislative process. Always call ahead to schedule the meeting. If it is in Springfield, be prepared to wait even if you have an appointment: unexpectedly long committee or other meetings can throw off your legislator's schedule. Make sure you know how much time you have. If you are asked how much time you need, expect no more than 10 to 15 minutes when meeting in Springfield.


Before the meeting:

Everything we said above in (a) still applies.

You must know the bill: what the bill does, its status (in which house of the legislature; if in committee, what committee, or passed out of committee and "on the floor,") the legislative sponsors, who supports it, and who opposes it or is likely to. "Who" means not just legislators, but organizations and interest groups.

Know the arguments for and against the bill, why they are true or false or simply outweighed by other considerations. Knowledge is what will get you treated as an intelligent advocate.

Find out what you can about the legislator's position on the bill.

Understand what the legislator can do for you, and what you want from her/him. For example: if the bill is in a committee on which the legislator does not serve, [s]he can't vote for the bill unless it is voted out of committee and onto "the floor." But [s]he could sign on as a sponsor, or drop sponsorship, or talk to other legislators, including leadership, about supporting or opposing the bill. [S]he could also talk to the chief sponsor about amending the bill, or not calling it for a vote.


At the meeting:

Introduce yourselves, no matter how many times you have done this before.

Say what bill you are interested in: the bill number, who is the sponsor, where the bill is now.

Unless the legislator has your position paper in hand, give her/him a copy.

Ask the legislator what [s]he knows about the bill, and if [s]he has a position on it.

If your legislator is not familiar with the bill, explain briefly what problem - or supposed problem - it addresses, and what it is supposed to do. If you think there really is no such problem, or you think the bill is not a solution, or would "solve" the problem by creating even worse problems, say so. (For example: the bill lets nursing homes have unlicensed staff - nursing assistants - give residents medication. They say they need to do this because they don't have enough nurses to do the job. We think doing this would be bad for residents because giving residents medication is the only time many nurses ever have to really see and assess their residents, something nursing assistants don't have the education to do, and because . . . .)

Don't argue. If your legislator has come to an opposite conclusion from yours, you can ask if [s]he knows specific facts that might change her mind. (For example: "Other states already do this without any problem." "Well, actually, no state has ever done any study to see if there is a problem.") But no arguing, no threatening.

Based on what you are told, you may want to write off this legislator on this issue, or redouble efforts to persuade her/him. Regardless of how well the meeting goes, always send a follow-up letter thanking her/him for the meeting, and summarizing what you talked about.


Letters To The Editor

If there is enough time before a vote is taken, you can write an opinion piece or letter to the editor of your local paper. Your piece should include the number of the bill you are writing about, a summary of what it does, why it matters to you, and what you want done about it. If you want people to call their legislator, say so.

Before you write, check with the newspaper for their ground rules. These include maximum length, and single- or double-spaced. Include your contact information, including address, phone number, and e-mail address.

If the issue has not been written about in your local paper, you can call a reporter who usually covers the subject and talk to her/him about why it is important to people in the area. A sympathetic story can inform your legislator about an issue, make it clear that it matters to many people, and generate pressure to vote appropriately.


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