Ensuring coverage for seniors
Since she was a little girl, Irene Hanssen wanted to be a nurse. She attended, and graduated from, the Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing from 1958-1961. Her first job was working nights in the newborn nursery, when there was no such thing as a neonatal intensive care unit. She baptized two babies who were declining, when the priest or pastor couldn’t make it to the hospital in time.
Then, two years into her career, in 1963, she made a permanent switch to the operating room. She worked at Mercy Hospital in Davenport, then Good Samaritan in Downers Grove, Illinois, when her husband transferred
there. When they returned to the Quad Cities, she went to work at Genesis West.
“You either love working in an operating room or want nothing to do with it,” she said. “It was challenging mentally and physically. Everything is unique. My favorite was orthopedics.”
Irene’s history is important, because it led to her volunteer work in retirement.
Shortly after she retired in 2004 after Irene Hanssen spent her career as a nurse. Now, she uses her medical background as a volunteer for the Senior Health Insurance Information Program. After more than four decades as a nurse, Irene received a postcard in the mail from AARP, seeking out volunteers for the Senior Health Insurance Information Program.
“My husband said go for it,” Irene said.
She went for five days of training. She wondered a bit what she had gotten herself into.
The Senior Health Insurance Information Program, or SHIIP, was created in 1990 by the Iowa Insurance Division. SHIIP advocates, informs, educates and assists consumers on Medicare and related health insurance issues so they can make informed decisions and access resources to address their needs. The services are free, objective, and confidential.
Local organizations partner with SHIIP to host trained volunteers who provide information, counseling, and education services in communities across the state. SHIIP is funded by a federal grant and by the Iowa Insurance Division. Every state has an insurance assistance program like SHIIP.
Trained volunteers assist thousands of Iowans each year to understand their Medicare benefits and options through individual counseling sessions, community education, special projects and making connections in their communities. Each year, to ensure proficiency, volunteers must complete training, assist a minimum number of clients throughout the year, and complete online reviews.
Volunteers, SHIIP leaders say, must be people who enjoy tackling new challenges. They are people who like to learn complex subject matter, have computer skills and are internet savvy, can work with diverse populations, gain personal satisfaction from helping clients navigate the challenges of understanding Medicare, and can be a trusted and objective source of information.
That volunteer description? It describes Irene to a tee.
Fourteen years after her first training, Irene remains a steadfast volunteer, guiding fellow senior citizens through choosing the best Medicare options for each individual. In addition to the training she goes through each year, Irene also keeps up with news about what is happening with Medicare. One of the more significant changes for 2019 is with the prescription drug plans. It’s why reviewing individual plans every year is important – things are always changing.
Irene evaluates her plan every year as well.
Connecting with Irene and other SHIIP volunteers in the area is as easy as calling one of the numbers on the bottom of this page and making an appointment, she said. The meetings last about an hour. Irene’s office is at the Center for Active Seniors. During open enrollment, she assists about 12 people a week for the eight weeks from Oct. 15-Dec. 7.
Her first question for those who come for help? “How can I help you?”
“It’s an extension of my nursing, caring for people,” she said. “We welcome the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich.”
SHIIP locations in Iowa (www.therightcalliowa.gov)
Genesis Medical Center: (563) 421-1096
Milestones Area Agency on Aging – Davenport:
Center For Active Seniors, Inc. (CASI):
(563) 386-7477 ext. 221
SHIP locations in Illinois (www2.illinois.gov/aging/ship)
Project NOW: (309) 793-6391
Rock Island County Senior Center:
Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging: