A decade ago, Congress became concerned that if elderly people were being abused or not getting proper care in a nursing home, they might not have a way to let anyone know about it or do anything about it, particularly if they did not have a family.

So a federally funded ombudsman program was started in 1975 to provide community advocates to promote the interests of nursing home residents. Nine years later, less than half of the District's 16 nursing homes are served by ombudsmen.

It was not until two years ago that D.C. Village got its official ombudsman, when the church-connected Southeast Cluster was given the designation and funding of $10,000 a year, according to the group's executive director, Alvin Hathaway.

"It came after a long struggle," even though the Southeast Cluster had involved itself at D.C. Village informally since 1981, he said. Funding comes through the D.C. Office of Aging.

Fay Mays, the group's special project administrator, takes primary responsibility for visiting D.C. Village residents, listening to their complaints and trying to get them resolved. Mays and Hathaway are paid, but they said they must rely heavily on volunteers. Right now, they have seven volunteers to deal with the 432 residents of the nursing home, and they said they badly need more.

"The community has to play a greater role" at the home if they want the rights of the elderly to be protected, Hathaway said. "When people have visitors, they get a higher quality of care."