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New York Teacher
Man sitting at desk writing
Erica Berger

Chris Chin, the director of the UFT's Retiree Social Services, makes a telephone reassurance call to a retiree. "Just being there and listening can be a real help," Chin said.

UFT geriatric social worker Amy Murray recently ran into the daughter of a retiree she had contacted weekly for a few years as part of the Nationwide Telephone Reassurance Program run by the union’s Retiree Social Services. The daughter thanked Murray and said her late father had always looked forward to her calls.

“It was so nice because she said, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ ” Murray said. The woman also asked if they could take a selfie together to share with her sisters.

From offering support through friendly phone calls to advocating for retirees as they navigate the health care system, the union’s Retiree Social Services staff gives valuable assistance to thousands of retired UFT members each year. Three geriatric social workers provide the free and confidential services, which also include short-term counseling, information and referrals.

“It’s part of the union’s commitment that people throughout their careers and into retirement are taken care of,” said Chris Chin, the director.

In coordination with Retiree Social Services, retirees checked on tens of thousands of members during the COVID-19 pandemic, said RTC Chapter Leader Tom Murphy, calling the team effort one of the department’s “finest accomplishments.”

The many retiree volunteers “spoke directly to thousands of our members and by email or text to those we couldn’t reach by phone,” Murphy said. “They were therapeutic calls both for the people who received the calls and those who made them.”

Some of the retirees they contacted now receive regular calls as part of the Nationwide Telephone Reassurance Program. The union social workers check in with about 120 members who are facing difficulties, such as the loss of a spouse, an illness or loneliness. “Sometimes we think we’re not really helping, but just being there and listening can be a real help for someone with respect to mental health,” Chin said.

For the UFT’s Nationwide Hospital Stay in Touch Program, social workers contact hospitalized retirees and their families daily to check on the patient, answer questions about benefits, suggest questions to ask the doctor and advocate for members to get the care they need. The social workers follow patients throughout their hospital stay, rehabilitation, physical therapy and for a few days when they return home.

Murray said talking through problems or concerns can help people deal with them. “Honestly, everybody should have a social worker, someone you can just call and share with,” she said.

Retirees and their family members can also call Retiree Social Services for information about and referrals to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home-care services, bereavement and support groups, longer-term counseling, Meals on Wheels and many other services.

“We can talk you through whatever’s going on,” Chin said.

The pandemic made it necessary to provide all services virtually. The department will continue to offer only virtual services until it is safe to resume in-person visits.

For assistance, call 212-598-6880 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Related Topics: Retired Teachers