Middletown was once a bustling steel and paper manufacturing hub along the banks of the Great Miami River in southwest Ohio. The majority of manufacturing jobs disappeared in the downsizing waves of the 1980s and 1990s, leaving behind an older population — including many elderly on fixed incomes and government assistance.
It was against this backdrop that T.E. Baines, a volunteer for Middletown-based advocacy group Ohio Pro Seniors, met Bill Rogers, a longtime resident of the area. Baines had given a presentation on navigating Medicare, and during the question-and-answer session afterward, Rogers spoke up and remarked that he was a victim of the very Medicare fraud that Baines was counseling how to prevent.
“Did you report it to police?” Baines asked.
Rogers said he had. In fact, a Middletown detective had been trying to get to the bottom of it for quite some time to no avail. The man had been receiving statements showing that a provider he had never heard of had been billing him and Medicare for services he never received, and it was causing problems for Rogers when he went for his various medical appointments.
Baines decided to get Pro Seniors involved.
Pro Seniors, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit organization with a mandate to help society’s oldest members with the sometimes complicated issues of aging. The organization dispenses legal assistance, serves as a Medicare watchdog, and offers an ombudsman service for those in long-term care. Pro ’ mission is to help the quality of life for Ohioans over 60.
After a lot of sleuthing and back-and-forth with Medicare and the errant biller, Pro Seniors figured out the problem and recovered the man’s money. In this case, Rogers hadn’t been a victim of anything intentionally malicious. His is a relatively common name, and an innocent mistake (a wrong digit was entered by someone, somewhere) had snowballed into a big problem.
“Medicare can be confusing, but the answers are there if you know where to find them,” Baines says.
His role gives him a great deal of fulfillment. “I like the idea of helping, and I believe in service,” he says. “I think part of being a citizen is doing more than your share.”
Life for those in the aging population can be one of dizzying change and speed, even for the sharpest minds. And in a predominantly rural area without the menu of services that many cities are able to offer, that can add to a feeling of isolation. Pro Seniors serves as a lifeline to those in rural areas, with help literally a phone call away.
The phone line is busy at Pro Seniors’ Cincinnati office. Calls to the legal hotline, which has served the state since 1981, come in from all over the state. Pro Seniors serves as a vital line of defense for older Ohioans, and services are available to any Ohioan age 60 or over.
Retirement communities and senior centers across the state, in fact, practically have Pro Seniors on speed dial as a means to connect their customers with the help they need.
“I have worked with Pro Seniors for many years and have referred hundreds of older adults and their family members to Pro Seniors,” says Karen Hill, director of independent living for the Otterbein Lifestyle Community, a senior residential living complex in Warren County. “They do a wonderful job of sharing information and helping people with all kinds of concerns with their many different programs.”
Scammers take advantage of a trusting population that has wealth, and Pro Seniors has become a versatile and valuable resource to combat these scams.
“There are just so many more different types of media today to reach victims,” says Mary Day, program associate for Pro Seniors. “All the different ways of communicating today have created more opportunities to try to victimize that target audience. They are home, they pick up the phone and read every piece of mail.”
While someone taken in by the Jamaican lottery scam and others of its ilk have little chance of recovering their money, Pro Seniors can help ensure it never happens again by dispensing sound advice: “Close the bank account, notify credit bureaus, and we highly recommend a credit freeze,” Day says, adding that for $5 one’s credit can be essentially “locked” so that a would-be scammer runs into a firewall when trying to take out a loan or open a credit card.
“We provide victims with information as to what their next step is, what their rights are and what their responsibilities are,” Day says. “We equip people to take the next step.”
Kevin Williams is a freelance writer from Middletown.