By CATHY MOUNCE, Register Staff Writer
Cooke County’s elderly residents have a nearby resource to help them.
The Area Agency on Aging, under the Texoma Council of Governments (TCOG), is primarily responsible for the development and coordination of services for citizens over the age of 60 and for citizens with disabilities.
There are three benefit counselors in the North Texas-Texoma area
Benelle Fitts, Elder Rights Specialist at 1100 Lawrence St. in Gainesville, has been with the agency for over 10 years and has assisted hundreds of seniors and others looking for information on services.
There are two other benefit counselors in the North Texas area. Bill McCormick, Fannin County, has been with the agency for one and a half years. Janet Karam, in Sherman, has been with the agency for two years and was at the Gainesville location Feb.7.
The goal of the agency programs is to promote lifelong independence for older Texans and to provide alternatives in long-term care options.
According to Janet Karam the agency can provide information for seniors making decisions on their Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
One of her recent concerns is the open enrollment period for Medicare recipients.
“Open enrollment for Medicare and Medicaid is Oct. 15 to Dec 7,” she noted. “It is our busiest time of the year and it is so important for our seniors and those that are disabled to come in, meet with us and learn what program is right for them. We don’t file the paperwork for them but we can translate and explain.”
Navigating Medicare plans can be difficult, she continued.
”Each year plans change and what was covered last year may not be covered the same way this year,” she said. “ It can be confusing and we can educate the enrollees as they choose what plan is best for them. Some have saved over $5,000 a year by investigating all the programs and making the right decision that best fits their needs.”
The TCOG is a volunteer organization of local governmental units in Cooke, Grayson and Fannin Counties organized under the authority of Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government code. Aging Services is only one of their departments. The program is free and is supported and funded by local contributions, foundation support, the Older Americans Act and a variety of federal grants. They are also a United Way agency.
Karam, a native Texan, spent many of her younger years in various locations before family brought her back to Texas and the Texoma area.
She said she believes she’s found her niche.
“ I apprenticed with the TCOG before I became an Elder Rights Specialist,” she said. “I have fallen in love with the seniors and people that I meet each day. It not only gives me great satisfaction to be able to help those in need but they have enriched my life also.”
Karam urges Cooke County residents to reach out to Benelle Fitts in the Gainesville office at 668-1858 or to call the agency’s 211 helpline for information assistance.