SHIBA program looks for volunteers to ease Medicare process for seniors


The Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program is short on volunteers in part due to staffing shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The program aims to help senior citizens navigate the Medicare and Medicaid process.

“There’s a great need (for SHIBA),” program coordinator Charlean Hayes Hughes said. “The busiest time is open enrollment, which is when seniors have a lot of questions about their coverage, like if they want to change options.” 

Hughes said that throughout the year, she gets referrals on a daily basis. In order to field the large volume of referrals and questions, volunteers are needed so the program can run smoothly. 

“The need for volunteers is great too, especially following COVID,” Hughes said. “Every volunteer program took a hit because many seniors are the volunteers for every program I’ve been a part of.”

Volunteers can be anyone over the age of 18. To effectively serve the seniors, Hughes said it takes six to nine months to train a volunteer for adviser positions “to get them ready to answer calls.” For administrative volunteer work, Hughes said it only takes a few weeks of training. 

When searching for volunteers, Hughes said SHIBA looks for “people who follow through and people who are timely because once a client calls in, we have two days to respond to their call and to address their needs, so it’s more characteristics rather than experience.” 

Whether the volunteer is a nurse or a boat captain, she said they can come from any walk of life as long as they have an interest in learning the required duties. Hughes admits understanding the nuances of Medicare and Medicaid is difficult, so she wants to ensure the volunteers are effectively able to translate it to the senior citizens who seek help. 

For administrative volunteers, Hughes said some of the duties entail putting labels on brochures, entering data into their federal database, and doing outreach. 

“A person could do outreach and presentations. They could bring brochures around to medical offices, pharmacies and libraries,” she explained. “Some people are not aware that there’s help for the shared cost of Medicare, so we try to get the word out by putting publicity out there.”

Hughes said volunteers can also participate in special outreach projects like contacting newspapers to ask about advertising or spreading awareness about the public service. 

“This is so seniors know two things: That SHIBA exists to help them in an unbiased and free way, and also that if they need help with the shares cost, that there are people who can help them understand how to access those benefits,” Hughes said. 

She also mentioned another category of volunteers called the “Senior Medicare Patrol,” which helps seniors understand how to read their Medicare summary benefits. The volunteers also work to educate seniors so they don’t fall victim to fraud or scams. They advise senior citizens to not give out their social security number or bank account number. Hughes said Medicare fraud can reach over $60 billion a year. 

“Many of the volunteers have gotten to the age of 65 and realized that it’s a lot of choices, and they were either helped by someone in SHIBA and very motivated to do that, or they weren’t helped by someone and wished they had someone like themselves,” she said. 

Hughes currently hopes to recruit around 20 more volunteers. 

“If I had 50 volunteers, it’d be icing on the cake, but I’ll take the cake,” she said. 

Although she would like more adviser volunteers, Hughes said she’s open to people working in whatever area they feel most comfortable. 

People who are interested in volunteering can call at 360-694-8144. More information on SHIBA can be found online at wide-health-insurance-bene fits-advisors-shiba.


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