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SHINE struggles for volunteers

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Laurie Stierle thinks volunteerism may be an unintended victim of the good economy.

For the past few years, her organization, SHINE, has found it harder to get volunteers into a program that helps elderly people understand their health insurance, Medicare and hospital bills.

Back in 1990, when the group started, it had 102 volunteers. Now 10 years later, there are six, including Stierle, helping as many as 1,000 people a year in west Pasco.

SHINE, a state program, stands for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders. One of the people Stierle helped brought two bags full of bills to her, asking for help. His wife had a stroke and he had to care for her and feed her at home.

"He was just overwhelmed," Stierle said.

After working with him, Stierle said they got the bills sorted out, and he could go back to caring for his wife. It's how the program is supposed to work.

Volunteers work about eight hours a month, usually two mornings of four hours each. Most of the work is done over the phone, Stierle said.

Currently the only SHINE volunteers in Pasco are in the western part of the county. Stierle said the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, which runs the SHINE Program, was considering starting an east Pasco SHINE program sometime soon.

"They're hoping to," she said. "They need it over there."

For now, Stierle said, volunteers are needed in west Pasco. The way health maintenance organizations handle Medicare expenses has changed, sending a flood of questions to volunteers.

Those wanting to volunteer with SHINE can call (727) 862-9291 for an application.

Anyone wanting to contact a SHINE volunteer for help with health insurance questions can call one of the area CARES offices in Port Richey, New Port Richey, Hudson and Elfers.

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