The North Carolina Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) Coordinator of the Year recognition was awarded to Carmen Long, Surry County’s SHIIP coordinator and extension agent with the N.C. State Cooperative Extension’s Surry County Center.
Long was selected from all nominees across the state to receive the award. She was unable to attend the award’s ceremony in Raleigh, so Jeannie Schepisi, regional coordinator for SHIIP, accepted on her behalf.
The SHIIP program is offered through the North Carolina Department of Insurance as a way to extend free information to Medicare beneficiaries and caregivers about Medicare supplements, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, and long-term care insurance. The program was created in 1986 and has been a role model for other states.
Long was surprised last Monday with a special awards ceremony at the extension center, which was attended by the regional coordinator Jeannie Schepisi, SHIIP volunteers, as well as partnering agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center.
“It was a wonderful surprise. It certainly made Monday a lot more fun. Everyone was sneaking around, and I opened the doors to the auditorium to see a room full of people, my husband, and my son, then I turned around and saw the sign and couldn’t believe it…none of this would be possible without the wonderful volunteers we have working with us. I just encourage the volunteers and make sure they have their reports turned in. I appreciate all the things they do to help share the knowledge and help the people in Surry County who have medicare due to age or disability. This award isn’t just about me — it’s really for all of us,” said Long.
Jeannie Schepisi, regional coordinator for SHIIP, said each year the five regional managers are asked to submit a nomination for each region. Surry County falls within the Piedmont area which is a 24-county region. Schepisi nominated Long after Surry County SHIIP not only met their counseling and outreach goals, they exceeded the goals by a large number, at least 54 percent.
Schepisi described Long as a tremendous asset to the program. She said Long motivates the volunteers by “involving them and by continuously rewarding and recognizing them.” Schepisi also said Long is “very cooperative and supportive of the SHIIP mission” and commended her for “utilizing her resources to conduct SHIIP outreach in the entire county and utilizing her personal attributes to passionately and compassionately assist those in need.”
“Carmen does all that she does and makes it seem so effortless. She is helpful, warm, and sunny with a caring sense about her which are great attributes for a SHIIP County Coordinator,” Schepisi wrote on the nomination form for Long.
The nomination form also had comments and praise for Long from SHIIP volunteers, Gina Gammons, and the manager of the Social Security office Tom Bachmann, who described Long as “talented, creative, and extremely knowledgeable” and said Long makes his job easier by being a “great and valuable partner for Social Security.”
Long not only serves as the SHIIP coordinator for Surry County, she is also an extension agent. Schepisi said even though Long serves as an extension agent and SHIIP coordinator, she has never had trouble balancing the two jobs. “You would never suspect that being the SHIIP coordinator is not the only hat she wears.”
Long said on a normal day, she may receive five calls about SHIIP in the morning, followed by phone calls with questions about food preservation techniques and information requests about how to prepare corn for cornhole bags.
“It makes for a very interesting job, and I have to say that I am never bored,” Long remarked.
Long has worked with the SHIIP program for more than 25 years; she started in Alleghany County in 1987. Long said the job has evolved since the beginning, especially with the addition of Medicare Part D in 2006.
“When I first started working with SHIIP, we had a few people who came in for help with bills and claims, but now we see hundreds of people each year. Many come back every year and we keep their information updated in the system. This is an opportunity for us to help in a way I never imagined when I first started. We always had a financial management component though, and if we can help to reduce those costs it frees up money that they can use on basic necessities.”
SHIIP can assist Medicare recipients with their supplemental policies that help to cover what Medicare A and B do not cover, Long explained.
“We can help individuals select the most appropriate drug plan to meet their prescription needs. Medicare.gov has a tool where they can enter in their medications and it will prioritize plans that are licensed to sell in North Carolina by price and also whether or not the medications they take are offered by the plan. All plans are different — some have deductibles and some do not. Even the prices among drug stores vary by plan. It is a lot of information to take in and we are here to assist.”
Long said SHIIP also can help Medicare recipients to choose Medicare Advantage Plans and provide help with planning and making decisions about doctor and hospital visits and balancing costs of medicine.
“The most important information we want to get out there is that people have options. We can help them decide which options are best for their individual needs. A person may not need to take the same plan as their spouse, sibling, family member, or friend, each plan is not best for everyone. We offer an opportunity to investigate and find out which plan best suits their individual needs,” explained Long.
Long said the open enrollment period is from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 each year, and she would like to encourage everyone who receives Medicare to contact SHIIP for more information, “even individuals who have drug plans they are happy with…they may want to investigate and see the new options they have.”
The SHIIP volunteer counselors are at the heart of the program, Long explained. “We have four volunteers that have been with us for such a long time, and another long-time volunteer, Clara Fountain, sadly passed away in December of last year.”
Long said she truly values her volunteers including Donna Collins, Gina Gammons and Tammy Haynes. Rebecca Holder and Joe Verba completed their SHIIP volunteer counselor training recently, according to Long, and she would “love to enroll more volunteers” for the program.
“All the SHIIP volunteer training is online now and it is flexible because the volunteers can work with their schedules. They have to put in 40 hours a year, and training time is counted as part of those hours. We have quarterly meetings with updates in order to follow trends and current issues…it really doesn’t require a lot of structured time, but it is a wonderful opportunity for individuals to help and contribute to our community.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering for SHIIP shold contact Carmen Long at 401-8025 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.