Students studying social work at Bloomsburg University are preparing for careers in which they will be helping those in need. Many students are already applying the skills they’ve learned to aid members of the local community enroll in health care plans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as Obamacare.
Open enrollment for health care lasts until March 31, 2014, and the idea behind the program, called ACA Health Insurance Enrollment Opportunities, is to assist as many people as possible before the deadline.
More than a dozen BU students have been trained as Certification Assistance Counselors (CACs), whose role is to meet with people one-on-one to educate them about their options for health care enrollment and provide resources.
Shiloh Erdley, assistant professor of sociology, social work and criminology, is involved in training student and faculty CACs.
“There is nobody that health care does not affect,” says Erdley, emphasizing that Bloomsburg and the surrounding area have many people in rural isolation with much need.
Robin Carpenter, a junior social work major and CAC from Medford, Mass., has seen that need through her involvement with the program.
“Some don’t have Internet access at home. People don’t have email, sometimes,” Carpenter says, adding that in a rural area like Bloomsburg, many people do not have the means to access information online or to sign up for health care on their own. They may not know about their options.
“It’s sobering,” says Erdley. “This is our community, our neighbors.”
The program started as a collaboration between Bucknell University and Bette Grey ’81, founder of the Columbia County Volunteers in Medicine Clinic (CCVIM) in Mifflinville, and grew to include BU. The clinic offers free health services to patients without insurance.
A total of 21 BU students and faculty members have been trained and CAC-certified. Most of these students, like Carpenter, are social work majors. There is always at least one faculty member on-site to aid students in special situations and answer unique questions, says Carpenter.
Jean Downing, director of SOLVE, which coordinates BU volunteer efforts, and Carolyn Dalton, assistant professor of nursing, have provided support to volunteers and shown students the connection between helping professions like social work and nursing.
“These are things we do in our profession and advocate for those in need,” says Erdley. “We can’t be afraid. We have to be able to help with things that may be intimidating.”
Carpenter has gained a lot from her involvement. “Social work is a helping profession. That gratitude [I receive] from being able to help with something is important.”
Though it began at CCVIM, the program is now at a second site in Bloomsburg at Wesley United Methodist Church, along with another BU student program, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). Through VITA, members of BU’s Student Accounting Association, trained by the IRS, prepare and file federal and local income tax returns free of charge for low-to-moderate income people and senior citizens. CACs are available at CCVIM on Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m. and at Wesley United Methodist Church on Tuesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. through March 31. The VITA program is open at the church Mondays through Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. until April 9.
Erdley encourages people interested in the CAC program at either location or those who would like to volunteer to call 570-939-5892 or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, as days and times are subject to change. Appointments for the VITA program can be made by calling 570-759-1005, and more information is available from BU accounting instructor Gabriel Genovese at email@example.com.
“Even when enrollment ends, people will still need support,” says Erdley. She encourages students who need health care coverage or want to learn more about the Affordable Care Act to visit www.healthcare.gov.
— Nick Cellucci ’16