Armed with a $25,000 nine-month federal grant, the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest is seeking volunteers for a program that advises senior citizens on the intricacies of Medicare.
Volunteers are currently being recruited among people above the age of 55 who are willing to take part in 40 hours of training between Sept. 7 and 30. Once they have completed an orientation, the volunteers will be asked to commit to serving two to four hours each week at a designated center in Essex County.
They will become part of SHIP, an acronym for the Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program, a federally funded service administered by individual state governments and, in turn, by one social service agency in each county. In July, JFS was awarded the grant for educating the Medicare-eligible in Essex County.
“SHIP counselors will meet with Medicare recipients or applicants and help them navigate the enrollment process and resolve any questions that come up — particularly around prescription coverage,” explained JFS executive director Reuben Rotman.
“There is a lot of confusion about what Medicare does and doesn’t cover. All kinds of issues may come up, and they are very personal, so the certified counselors can respond to questions in person, by e-mail, or on the phone,” he told NJ Jewish News in a July 29 phone interview.
There are currently 15 SHIP information sites across Essex County, and JFS is seeking to open more.
“We are going to structure our program throughout Essex County where we will have sites in senior centers, libraries, supermarkets, and a variety of other sites so that seniors can easily go in and talk with a SHIP counselor,” Rotman said. “We have to make sure that all the towns are covered.”
Procuring counselors is the responsibility of Stephanie Grove, director of JFS’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).
Grove said her own involvement will “take the pressure off” Essex County SHIP coordinator Siobhan Flynn-Higgins, a JFS social worker, “so she doesn’t have to spend time on recruitment and can develop the program, help train the volunteers, and place them in communities.”
Flynn-Higgins will also devote more time to “finding new SHIP sites, connecting with new agencies, and working with seniors who had no idea this program was available to them,” Grove explained.
The consultation services will be especially valuable to Medicare recipients and applicants who may be confused about the prescription drug coverage in its Part D program, Grove said. “The SHIP program gives people, regardless of income, the chance to sit down with a counselor and go over Medicare and maybe help the client save money by switching to a more comprehensive coverage.”
“It is a nice growth opportunity for our RSVP and a perfect role for what we do already,” said Rotman. “We do a lot of information programs around senior entitlement. This is a natural extension of what we do.”