Charlotte Barnes lets out a happy “whoop!” as she hangs up the phone with a smile. “She got the check!” Barnes exclaims, beaming from ear to ear as she high-fives ABC15 reporter Joe Ducey.
Barnes, a retired O.R. nurse from Kentucky, is one of less than a dozen volunteers who helps Joe Ducey with his “Let Joe Know” consumer affairs program, which airs at 6 p.m. weekdays on ABC-Channel 15. The volunteers return phone calls and e-mails and try to offer advice or referrals to those that won’t make the on-air program. It could be a landlord/tenant issue, a bad contractor problem, or someone who is about to fall for a scam and needs guidance.
Barnes explains that a 96-year-old woman was transported from a physical therapy center back to her home via ambulance in October 2014 and was given a bill by the ambulance company for $1,000. She paid it, without giving a thought to the fact that she had both Medicare and private insurance. A neighbor lady who checks in on the elderly woman regularly found out about the bill and after calling the ambulance company to get it straightened out—without any luck—she left a message with “Let Joe Know.”
It was Barnes who first contacted the neighbor, and then called the ambulance company, who said they had billed the insurance and mailed the refund check—to the rehab center. The rehab center said they mailed it to the elderly patient, but put the wrong address on the envelope and the check came back. They were sending it out again, and Barnes made sure they had the correct address this time.
Less than a week later, Barnes called back to check in—and got the happy news that the check had arrived the day before.
“They are both such nice ladies, and I’m sure she could use that $1,000 for something else,” said Barnes, who drives in from Cave Creek to volunteer. “I’m so happy it all got worked out.”
Ducey has been an investigative reporter with ABC15 for nine years. He launched the “Let Joe Know” consumer advocacy program two years ago this month.
“We get about 500 complaints a month. It’s amazing that so many people feel like they have to turn to a TV station because they can’t get the help they need from state or federal agencies,” Ducey says.
Volunteers come from throughout the Valley, including two from as far away as Surprise. While a good portion of them are retired, there are a number of volunteers who work flexible schedules and come in to help out because they want to give back to their community, Ducey explains.
Also helping to “give back” is the Assistance League of Phoenix (ALP), which donates space at its Philanthropic Center in Sunnyslope for Ducey and his team to use three days a week, including telephones and computers.
“Our partnership with ABC15 has been in place for nearly a year now,” said Brenda Sperduti, CEO and executive director of ALP. Last month ALP presented Ducey with its “Excellence in Philanthropy” award at its 44th Annual Celebration of Caring gala.
Some of the ALP members serve as “Let Joe Know” volunteers. “The volunteers tell me they enjoy learning more about how consumer protection works, giving them the opportunity to inform and teach others to be better advocates for themselves,” Sperduti says.
Ducey says all the work is computer based, so for some volunteers, “there is a little bit of a learning curve.” But training is provided and there is someone on hand each day who can help with volunteers’ computer questions. Ducey is usually there on Fridays to pitch in.
“Some start with little to no knowledge of the Internet, but it’s amazing how fast they catch on.”
Seasoned volunteers also are more than happy to help newcomers. Jim Cederstrom, a retired respiratory therapist, explains that “some volunteers have more experience in certain areas, so we try to help each other with advice and suggestions.” He volunteers two to three times a week.
In mid-March, the volunteers were still working on February’s influx of consumer complaints. Which is why Ducey and his station are hoping more people would like to help out.
“We get about 500 consumer complaints a month,” Ducey points out. “Our goal is to give everyone a call back, whether or not we can help them.”
Sometimes those frustrated consumers are referred to other agencies that might be better able to assist them. Other times when those complainants are finally contacted, they’ve been able to resolve the situation themselves.
The volunteers meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the ALP Philanthropic Center, located near 5th Street and Dunlap Avenue in Sunnyslope. If the call for volunteers gets a healthy response, the volunteer days could be expanded to Monday through Friday, Ducey says, which may work better for people’s schedules.
If you are interested in volunteering for the “Let Joe Know” program, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. The “Let Joe Know” page at www.ABC15.com has a place where you can enter your e-mail address to receive a short monthly newsletter highlighting the top three scams of the month, websites for researching companies, and other tips and tricks to avoid becoming a victim.