Focus on Your Community- SHIP making greater impact with new volunteers to serve public

Written by Bruce Lindner. Posted in Featured, Senior Living

Published on February 22, 2017 with No Comments


The SHIP program has expanded with more volunteers. Shown here, from left, are new volunteer Bill Boyle, Deborah Brann, volunteer and program coordinator Ginger Brockwehl, Tom Murphy and new volunteer Brenda Bocek.

State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) volunteers were busy this season, helping community members as well as welcoming new counselors to the program.

During open enrollment, which ran from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, the five counselors recorded 197 client contacts and 136 total hours. 

The majority of these contacts were at the SHIP office in our PCACS building, though some were by phone or email. 

The breakdown of those assisted by age is: under 65 – 26, age 65-74 – 90, age 75-84 – 61, age 85 and older – 14 and age not collected – six.

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program is a free and unbiased counseling program provided by the Indiana Department of Insurance for Medicare beneficiaries in Indiana. 

Throughout the year, SHIP counselors assist those new to Medicare as well as those who’ve been on it for years. 

Assistance includes providing answers to common questions about Medicare, including coverage, enrollment, eligibility and claims; explaining Medicare Supplemental (Medigap) policies and which companies sell them in Indiana; providing information on Medicare Advantage health plans and what plans are available where you live; and offering information about the Medicare prescription drug plans offered in Indiana and how to select the best one.

We’re here year-round for any issue someone has related to Medicare,” said SHIP coordinator and volunteer Ginger Brockwehl. “During the six-week open enrollment period, we were all pretty booked.”

Brockwehl, along with volunteers Deborah Brann and Tom Murphy, has been with the program more than five years.

It’s enjoyable,” Murphy said.

I feel really appreciated and we are doing something important,” Brann added. “It really keeps my mind engaged, and every day can be a new thing.”

The trio welcomed new volunteers Bill Boyle and Brenda Bocek this season.

Boyle and Bocek also work as volunteers with Brockwehl at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program through United Way of Porter County.

I was a teacher for 38 years,” Boyle said. “I needed something to do to keep me busy. There are a lot of people who need help, plus I learn a lot. I have learned a lot also as a volunteer with VITA.”

I will be using Medicare myself in the next seven to eight years,” Bocek said. “I didn’t know much about it. I thought it would be beneficial not only for me, but also to help others understand how the program works.”

Boyle and Bocek had five full days of classroom training, lots of Q&A exercises, and time shadowing the experienced counselors.

We had them shadow every experienced counselor at least once so they could see different styles,” Bocek said. “One of our experienced counselors would then shadow them and when it was mutually agreed, they went out on their own.

They both really became bonafide volunteers during the open enrollment period. They had tons of experience helping with open enrollment and the drug plans.”

As new counselors, you are not left hanging,” Bocke said. “Someone is always available to help and that is very important when you are doing something intense … there is so much you have to know about this.”

All volunteer counselors have to attend two half-day trainings a year to stay up-to-date on regulations and with any changes.

Even though we are more experienced, we don’t know all of the answers either,” Brockwell said. “We have people at the state level – SHIP employees who have a lot more experience. They are resources to all of us and often you can be with a client and call down to Indy to ask for help.”

Bocek said being a volunteer benefits both her and those she counsels.

I like it because it is intense – both VITA and SHIP – and it really engages and keeps my mind going,” she said. “I have seen in the short time that I have been here, how we really help people who sometimes find it difficult to understand this.

So to have someone walk you through it … from the short time I have been here, I have seen what a difference it makes for some people.”

SHIP counselors are available to answer questions and offer guidance year-round. To make an appointment, call 219- 464-1028 or email SHIP@portercountyacs.org.


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About Bruce Lindner


All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle.  Bruce Lindner has worked in the not-for-profit world for more than 25 years and has been executive director of Porter County Aging and Community Services for five. A native of the Region, he was raised in Portage and he graduated from Valparaiso University. You can call him at 219-464-9736 or e-mail at bhlindner@frontier.com.

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