08/27/14 — Peggy Tate is honored for her volunteer work

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Peggy Tate is honored for her volunteer work

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 27, 2014 1:46 PM

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Peggy Tate works at the Peggy M. Seegars Senior Center as a SHIIP counselor talking to clients about their available Medicare options.

A lot of people are glad Peggy Tate learned more about Medicare than she ever imagined she would need to know. And they often express that appreciation with hugs.

Those hugs and the satisfaction of being able to help others more than offsets the frustration Mrs. Tate sometimes experiences as the Senior Health Insurance Information Program counselor for Wayne County Services on Aging.

Recently, Mrs. Tate was honored as the North Carolina Southeast Region Volunteer of the Year for SHIIP.

Asked how she felt about the honor, she replied, "confused."

"I didn't even know I had been nominated," she said. "I was like, 'I won what?' Really, I was quite honored. It is a large section. It is 21 counties.

"I don't know what the counseling situations are in the counties. Some are small counties. It was wonderful and a genuine surprise. I have only been doing this a little over a year. I would have thought a more seasoned counselor would have won. Maybe they didn't have anyone more seasoned. Maybe I was the most seasoned. I don't know."

It is not a matter of being seasoned, but of caring, said Eryn McAuliffe, Services on Aging director.

"I nominated her not just because she is an excellent, proficient Medicare counselor, but because of her attitude, which is so positive," Mrs. McAuliffe said. "She is so uplifting to every one. She is a wonderful, friendly, compassionate person who deserved the recognition."

It was a call from Mrs. McAuliffe that drew Mrs. Tate into the program.

Mrs. Tate had been listed as a reference by a friend interested in volunteering as a SHIIP counselor.

Mrs. Tate gave a good reference and then jokingly said, "If you think she is good, then you should try me."

Mrs. McAuliffe did.

"Eryn is so great to work with," Mrs. Tate said. "I can't say enough about her staff here. They are so caring and involved. This is a super center. There are wonderful, thoughtful programs."

One of Mrs. Tate's early cases involved a family whose adult daughter suffered a chronic illness. But as a whole, the family had too much money to qualify for assistance.

The cost of some of the drugs the daughter was on to help with the chronic condition were "absolutely outrageous," Mrs. Tate said.

"That is when my sense of sensibility is most offended -- the drug companies that make the drugs so expensive," she said. "There are programs that drug company manufacturers have that will be a patient assistance program if they don't qualify for state for federal help."

She helps people fill out applications for those all the time. But that one family's situation continue to haunt her.

"When they left I was so discouraged that I could not get them any help," she said. "I couldn't get them anything to help them buy this very expensive drug. It just worried me.

"It was probably two weeks later in the middle of the night I woke up and thought, 'We'll qualify her as an adult by herself. Her disability from Social Security certainly fell within these guidelines. I called them and said, 'Please come back in. I have had a brainstorm.' They came back in, and we qualified just her on her income and she got help for drugs. That made me feel great."

The woman still calls from time to time to let Mrs. Tate know that everything is going well and that she will see her during open enrollment for Medicare.

"She will probably be the first person that I see," Mrs. Tate said. "She probably will be waiting here at 7 o'clock in the morning on open enrollment day."

Mrs. Tate also works a lot with widows whose husbands had always taken care of everything.

"She is sort of at-sea," Mrs. Tate said. "She is sort of lost, and I think that it helps when she sees that she doesn't have to be not empowered.

"I have seen some who had reached a point where they were not used to asking for assistance. When you told them or got the application and said, "Yes, you do qualify for some help,' and they realize they don't have to make that choice of, 'Do I buy my meds, or do I go to the grocery store?' That is a decision no one should have to make. No one."

A Goldsboro native, Mrs. Tate, 60, is retired from Wayne County Public Schools. She spent 15 years at Goldsboro High School as secretary to the principal and the bookkeeper. She then spent 12 and a half years in the finance department at the district's central office.

She retired December 2010, taking what she calls "the world's longest Christmas vacation."

The training was all online and she sat in with a SHIIP counselor to gain a better understanding of the process.

"Having worked with the school system, and always having been in finance, I had a basic knowledge of insurance as a whole," Mrs. Tate said. "After I finished the online training I understood Medicare much more than I ever thought that I would need to. But all of it has come in very handy."

In May 2013 Mrs. Tate began volunteering a few days a week. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. McAulliffe asked her if she would be interested in being her part-time paid SHIIP counselor.