Insurance commissioner touts importance of SHIIP, VFDs in visit to Lenoir, Greene

Insurance commissioner touts importance of SHIIP, VFDs in visit to Lenoir, Greene

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey poses for pictures with Lenoir County SHIIP (Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program) staffers, from left, Trudy Pickett, Belinda Huggins and Anne Gaddis. Pickett has been the Lenoir County Coordinator for SHIIP since 2008, while Huggins has served as a SHIIP volunteer for more than 20 years and Gaddis for more than 30. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey is quick to admit he’d rather be out from behind his desk in Raleigh and in the field visiting the thousands of firefighters, insurance agents and many others who work under his N.C. Department of Insurance umbrella.

“I thoroughly enjoy seeing different people in all the counties in North Carolina,” said Causey, who is also the N.C. fire marshal. “To go face-to-face with all the fire chiefs, firefighters, insurance agencies, extension office agencies and others … gives me total awareness of what is going on across the state.”

The commissioner spent Thursday visiting fire departments, insurance agencies and Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) offices throughout Lenoir and Greene counties. He wrapped his busy day at the Lenoir County SHIIP office that is housed at the new Lenoir County Cooperative Extension office on N.C. 11-55. Earlier in the day, he visited the Greene County SHIIP office.

At his final stop of the day, he spent time with Lenoir County SHIIP Coordinator Trudy Pickett, who was appreciative of his visit to Kinston. She said more than 300 people visited her office last year for SHIIP information during open enrollment, which runs annually from Oct. 15-Dec. 7.

“SHIIP is vitally important to people on Medicare or who are aging into Medicare,” Pickett said. “It’s a complicated process and there are always questions to answer.”

Thursday, Causey visited the Snow Hill Fire Department, the Jason Volunteer Fire Department, the Kinston Fire Department and the Southwood VFD. He cited the importance of VFDs like the ones in Jason and Southwood and marveled at the great jobs they do on limited budgets. Causey said the entire budget for the Jason VFD last year was about $56,000 – or about one-fifth the annual salary of the Charlotte Fire Department chief. In fact, not one firefighter in the CFD makes less than $56,000 a year.

“I told the Charlotte fire chief that anytime he can help smaller fire departments like Jason and Southwood with used items, it would be great,” Causey said. “We do a lot with grants – we give away about $10 million in grant money every year – but our larger fire departments like Charlotte need to help our rural volunteer fire departments.”

While at the Cooperative Extension Office, Causey also chatted with local Safe Kids NC Director Velvet Tyndall. Cooperative Extension Director Tammy Kelly said Tyndall’s office – housed at the Cooperative Extension – is the only permanent car seat check-in location in Lenoir County.

Kelly also said the local Safe Kids office gives away car seats to needy families.

“Safe Kids is a great program,” said Causey, who is also the Safe Kids NC chairman. “Ninety percent of the children killed in traffic accidents are killed because they are not properly fitted in a car seat or even in a car seat.”

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