Guest Author - Jackie O'Neal
Winfield Sargent is a gentleman of many talents. When he is not engrossed in helping seniors with their taxes, he is busy dedicating time as a volunteer speaker on Medicare fraud through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Established in 1971, RSVP was formed to provide people 55 and over the opportunity to fully get involved in the lives of their communities through volunteer service. As a benefit, volunteers are covered for personal injury occurring while on their assignments. He has participated in the program for the last eight years. At 84,his energy level can put many of his younger counterparts to shame especially since he also produces the programs monthly newsletter Expressions which he explains is packed with information on Medicare fraud and other issues affecting seniors.
A native of Atlantic City, he worked for General Electric in Philadelphia as an electrical engineer for thirty six years. He set his sights on Philadelphia after returning from the service. “After the war, I didn’t want to put in an application at the Post Office.”
A deeply committed Anglican, he serves on the altar during Wednesday noon Mass at The Church of the Ascension. In scheduling his volunteer events, he is careful not to get overbooked. “I have to make sure my speaking assignments don’t interfere with my work during tax season or Wednesday Mass. On Wednesday, it’s a case of Caesar calls versus God calls. If Caesar calls when God calls this presents a conflict since I’m the only available altar server oftentimes.”
So how does Mr. Sargent make the topic of Medicare fraud palatable to seniors so they’ll listen? “I give them a test on how they can differentiate between fraud and negligence.” According to Widillia Hernandez-Colon, Director of the Foster Grandparents Program and the Retired senior Volunteer Program much of the work done by the volunteers is service related. “ They help others be more aware of how doctors bill them and what they should be on the lookout for.”
As part of his presentation, Sergent provides numerous tangible examples of Medicare fraud. “For instance, in the Midwest a number of doctors had given their patients flu shots without a full doctor’s visit, however the Medicare statements showed that in addition to the flu shots, the patients had been charged for a doctor’s visit, although this had not happened. This way doctors were getting and additional $75. This constitutes one of the worst kinds of fraud.”
Sergent also covers examples of fraud difficult to prove as a way to raise awareness about how insidious it can get. “Motorized chairs are another example. Chairs should be prescribed by doctors only if the patient’s mobility is impeded to the point that it becomes medically necessary to use a motorized chair. If it is not medically necessary and a patient is prescribed a chair anyway, it becomes a type of fraud hard to detect.” What should seniors do if they receive a suspicious Medicare statement? “Call the Medicare fraud office. If you don’t get a satisfactory response, go to the next level. Contact the office in Trenton that handles fraud”, Sargent asserted. Sargent’s three-fold strategy can help seniors deal with Medicare fraud when and if it rears its ugly head. “Before contacting the office in Trenton, which should be done as a last resort, question your doctor, question the insurers and question the Medicare fraud office”, he said. Sergent provides detailed information about many aspects of Medicare fraud in his talks. But what are some typical questions seniors ask him? “Why can’t I bring my own medicine into the hospital if I’m admitted”?, he said. According to Sargent, patients are routinely discouraged from bringing their own medications, but hospital administrators rarely provide a convincing rationale, he explained. Apart from the presentations, Sergent serves on the Retired Senior Volunteer program Advisory Board. “The Board has twenty five representatives from a cross-section of the community. The chief project right now is preparing for the recognition dinner”, he said. Each year, The Retired Senior Volunteer Program hosts a dinner to recognize the outstanding contributions of their volunteers.
Given Sargent’s penchant for getting involved in multiple projects, the recognition is not only rewarding, but motivating. Although his present life is far from dull, his earlier life could read like an adventure novel. “I was a cartographer during the war and I have three battle stars since I was based in a combat zone in British New Guinea. It was a gratifying job- I didn’t have to do any heavy work. In my outfit, I was the only cartographer- topographical draftsmen is what we were called then. If anything happened to me the battalion would have been bad shape”, he said. He was part of the 822nd Engineer Aviation Battalion.
While in British New Guinea, he had contact with the aboriginal people. “They had elephantiasis, particularly the men, but they did well with the women. The women did farming and all the rowing on their long boats”, he said. On New Heberdis Island around the same time in the 40’s, he observed many aboriginal ceremonies. “There was a Catholic parish on Espiritu Santos Island where the nuns went native and participated in the ceremonies by dancing,” he said. Something of a world traveler, Sergent also visited Ghana in 1996. “ I spent eighteen days in Ghana. My nephew invited me with great expectations. We didn’t stay in luxury hotels though, we roughed it. It was interesting and I walked everywhere. It seemed Ghana was an advanced third world country. Once I arrived back to Kennedy airport, I was ready to go down on my knees- Thank God!”, he asserted. Asked what parts of the world he’d like to visit next, he barely hesitates to respond. “The Holy Land where Christ walked and the Taj Mahal in India,” he said.
What is Sergent’s secret to maintaining a full life at 84? He is a believer in the “use it or lose it” theory. “Fear of Alzheimer’s”, he said. “I’ve been retired from General Electric for eighteen years. They say people who had mentally challenging jobs in their younger years rarely get it”, he said. Compound that to the challenging work Sergent is immersed in at 84, not only does it appear he is maintaining his sharpness, but other seniors will certainly be growing sharper as well in terms of understanding Medicare fraud.
RSVP is located at 1 South New York Avenue, suite 501 ( and nationally)
Atlantic city, NJ 08401