New York, NY – In July of 2019, Carolyn Ernau learned that her husband, Robert (Robby), had Stage 4 melanoma (skin cancer). Carolyn and Robby have four young children and reside in Riverdale, in the Bronx. As Robby continues to face many more doctor visits, tests and treatment, the couple are both working full-time jobs while taking care of their four children. “Understanding and coordinating care is a full-time job in and of itself,” said Carolyn.
It is this experience that has led Carolyn to offer crucial advice to other families. “You need to understand all of the benefits and resources available to you: medical, life insurance, disability, and retirement options. You do not realize until it happens to you.” Her husband is a New York City Transit employee who just finished the apprenticeship program and now holds the title of Transit Structural Apprentice. He is also a proud member of TWU Local 100 for the last 18 years. “There is a wealth of information and resources out there,” Carolyn said. “Contact the union. Contact your health plan. Make sure your beneficiaries are in order.”
“You have to question every avenue,” she stresses. Early on, in a previous job at Union Benefit Planners, Carolyn worked with CFO, Steve Debiasi, managing voluntary benefits for various Funds. This experience provided Carolyn with invaluable training. “I’m so thankful to Steve and that job. I learned about disability benefits, critical illness, life insurance and other voluntary benefit options.”
Currently an account manager for the Public and Labor Management Department at Aetna, she works with unions for New York City and handles day-to-day benefit issues. “As someone who works in the health benefits and insurance field you would assume I have all the answers. I don’t. This process is extremely confusing at a very difficult time in our lives, which is why I want to make a point and share my experience with others. There are resources out there to help and you will need support.”
Carolyn said her employer, Aetna, has been “absolutely wonderful. Very supportive. My team has donated their time off to me so I can take the time to be there with Robby.” And her husband’s union, Local 100, “has been extremely helpful, very accommodating.”
“You don’t realize the importance of insurance, especially disability & life insurance, until it happens to you”, Carolyn added. “My hope is that at least one family takes action and learns from our story.”