From Classroom to Community

How a retired professor is reshaping lives by volunteering at MMAP

by Elizabeth Ann Morabito

Some people, like Peggy Kahn, are compelled to make a difference.

Her lifelong personal and professional interest has centered around researching the dynamics of low-income households which led her to teaching comparative social welfare as a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint. Now retired, her dedication to understanding and resolving social inequities has evolved to a role where she directly supports local community members. As a volunteer counselor for the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program, she makes a real difference in people’s lives by guiding them through the complexities of the Medicare system.

“MMAP counseling has been a very meaningful experience, one of being both challenged to learn and being useful to others.”

Peggy Kahn, MMAP counseling volunteer and retired U of M-Flint professor

“Without health, you can’t be an autonomous person, you can’t pursue your life goals, you’re always under stress so the idea of moving from teaching undergraduates how to think about things in this sort of comparative, sometimes abstract knowledge, to helping people solve their problems has been a motivation and a satisfaction,” reflects Kahn.

Kahn works through the MMAP office housed within Ageways Nonprofit Senior Services in Southfield which serves residents in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, and Washtenaw Counties. She primarily operates from her home in Ann Arbor, typically connecting with clients through phone calls or Zoom sessions while occasionally meeting with them in person. To foster familiarity with the local healthcare landscape and reduce unnecessary travel, volunteers like Kahn are assigned cases within their own counties.

Photo Courtesy of Peggy Kahn

Now in her second year of service, Kahn vividly remembers the comprehensive training she underwent, much of which was completed remotely. It began with online modules that provided a deep dive into Medicare’s complex policies and regulations, culminating in a test to confirm her grasp of the material. This was succeeded by 15 hours of in-person classroom training. The final step involved co-counseling sessions alongside a seasoned counselor. While Kahn completed this stage in person, others might participate through phone or Zoom calls.

Kahn now meets with clients on her own, though she admits it was “very humbling and a little concerning at first because you realize these are really important questions.” When unsure or needing more information, she often checks in with her supervisor, MMAP’s Region 1-B Coordinator Shari Smith. She also might delve into internet research or reach out to other organizations and experts. Her assistance ranges from guiding first-time enrollees and comparing different Advantage plans for the best fit to tackling claims or coverage disputes and everything in between. As she navigates each new scenario her knowledge base and confidence builds.

One of her most memorable cases to date was an unusual situation involving a client in urgent need of vital blood pressure medication. He had misplaced his insurance card and incorrect personal information was on file in various databases making retrieving the necessary data difficult. Kahn worked with public health navigators at a local organization to help resolve the issue. In the end, her persistence and creative approach to problem-solving ensured the errors were corrected, allowing the indispensable prescription to be filled.

Kahn is clear about her role as a volunteer, approaching it as an opportunity to educate rather than give advice. She engages in a conversation where clients pose questions about their specific needs and Kahn provides answers to guide them through the Medicare landscape. The goal is for clients to gain clarity through this process, leading them to make their own informed decisions.

The Washtenaw County residents Kahn assists “are overflowing with gratitude…because they’re living through a system that is so complicated they can’t figure it out and nobody else has the time.” Their appreciation stems from having someone who not only listens to their entire story but also dedicates ample time to reach a resolution, navigating through any challenges that may arise. This level of perseverance naturally garners profound gratitude. In fact, her supervisor, Smith, echoes these sentiments, “Peggy is a fabulous volunteer. She goes so far above and beyond, not only to help the beneficiary save money and avoid confusion, but to increase her understanding of the systemic issues underlying the problems the beneficiaries are facing.”

Kahn encourages other community members to consider this fulfilling, respected, and flexible volunteer role, “MMAP counseling has been a very meaningful experience, one of being both challenged to learn and being useful to others.”

For more information on volunteering with the Michigan Medicare Assistance Program, visit their volunteer information page.