Meet the Team

Joe Baker

joe-baker-headshotJoe Baker has been President of the Medicare Rights Center since June 2009. Mr. Baker is a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Board on Health Care Services and serves on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Advisory Panel on Outreach and Education. He is an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law, where he teaches a class on implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Previously, he was the deputy secretary for health and human services in New York State under Governor David A. Paterson, where he was instrumental in developing Medicaid reforms and a proposal to extend health coverage to younger New Yorkers. Mr. Baker served as assistant deputy secretary for health and human services under Governor Eliot Spitzer, after having directed the Health Care Bureau under Spitzer when he was attorney general of New York. Mr. Baker was executive vice president of Medicare Rights from 1994 to 2001, and prior to that was associate director of legal services for Gay Men’s Health Crisis. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.

Derek Ayeh is a graduate of Columbia University with a M.S. in Bioethics and The University of Chicago with a B.A. in Religious Studies. Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, Derek worked as a research assistant at The University of Chicago Hospitals. His main project focused on the effect of a patient’s religious beliefs on the end-of-life care recommendations given by physicians. He has since focused his academic efforts on issues of end-of-life, palliative care, and hospice.
Emily Balkan graduated from New York University with a Bachelors of Social Work and a minor in American Sign Language. Ms. Balkan has experience working with Deaf individuals with mental illness and aided them in their efforts to acquire work, independence, and acceptance into their communities. For five summers Emily volunteered at different week-long camps in upstate New York for individuals with developmental/physical disabilities and also inner city youth. She gained additional experience working with inner city youth during her time at NYU, during which she taught different health classes in NYC public schools. Ms. Balkan is eager to start her work with the Medicare Rights Center, and she hopes to gain a lot of experience working with older adults and to further her experience helping those with disabilities.
Andrea Barrientos graduated from Barnard College with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science. As an undergraduate, she interned at New York City and national organizations committed to promoting education, social justice, and political empowerment. Ms. Barrientos is eager to learn about health care policy and begin her work with the Medicare Rights Center. In the near future, she hopes to enroll in graduate school and pursue a career in public policy, more specifically in Latino affairs.
Marcin Bednarz graduated from the College of Staten Island (CUNY) with a B.S. in Computer Science, and previously worked as an administrative assistant and a web store administrator. Mr. Bednarz was born and raised in Poland.
Rachel Bennett joined the Medicare Rights Center in 2003. Ms. Bennett has helped develop and secure funding for programs of the Youth Service Opportunities Project, the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance, the Blacksmith Institute, and the National Physicians Alliance. Prior to coming to New York, she studied literature and writing in Ireland and health and economics in Ecuador, where she also worked in a nursing home. She writes and publishes poetry, and has a B.A. in English from Grinnell College.
Delores Bowman works on appeals cases involving health service denials, and also counsels professionals who have Medicare questions. Ms. Bowman retired from Chase Bank in 1999 after 30 years of service as a Certified Billing and Coding Specialist. She joined the Medicare Rights Center as a volunteer in September 1999.
Mitchell Clark is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Political Science and a Minor in Philosophy. Mr. Clark is a former volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club of America in Athens, GA, and is passionate about public service.
Michael Conte is currently a student at Pace University where he studies Computer Science. He previously interned at the Medicare Rights Center in 2013 as an IT Associate, and he is now working part time assisting the Director of Information Technology with various projects.
Janeen Ettienne is responsible for the development of educational content and training modules for Medicare beneficiaries, healthcare professionals and the advocates who serve them. Over the past 10 years, Ms. Ettienne has worked as a youth educator focusing on leadership and activism among young women. She is a proud AmeriCorps alumna, and completed her term of service through Public Allies New York (PANY); an organization focused on redefining leadership and strengthening communities through asset based development. Driven by her passion for social justice and civic engagement, Ms. Ettienne received her B.A. in Political Science from York College of the City University of New York and an M.S.W from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.
Giovanni Florez has dedicated his academic and professional careers towards public service. He has a B.A from Montclair State University and an M.P.A from John Jay College. While he was a graduate student he worked in the office of the New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Following the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy, Giovanni joined FEMA in 2012 and worked to ensure that hundreds of Sandy victims received financial assistance so that they could rebuild their homes. Giovanni is eager to utilize his public service experience in order to help older adults navigate the complex Medicare system and also hopes to gain extensive knowledge about health care policy.
Larry Friedman has over four years of experience in the development and administrative side of the non-profit sector and is committed to public service. Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, he worked at the New York Legal Assistance Group and Re:Gender. He has a B.A. in Political Science from Vassar College and an M.A. in Politics from New York University.
Denise Grant was formerly the Administrative Assistant/Educational Coordinator in the Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where she organized and coordinated the fourth-year medical student program.
Originally from Rockville, Maryland, Emma is a recent graduate of McDaniel College where she majored in social work and minored in sociology. She is thrilled to join the Medicare Rights Center through AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. Emma previously worked in the care coordination office at an integrated medical home with patients in need of insurance. She is excited to work with older adults in this new setting and is excited to gain experience working with people with disabilities. Emma is committed to providing affordable health care to those in need, and she is eager to combine her interests in working with older adults and health care here at the Medicare Rights Center.
Before Medicare Rights, Jay was a licensed School Director for two adult distance learning schools—the New York Institute of Photography and the New York Institute of Art and Design—and he’s held senior management positions with a variety of technology and publishing companies. He received his Masters of Arts in English Education from the University of Iowa, and his leisure-time passions include home renovation and blogging.
Most recently, Ms. Knight worked in federal affairs at the National Association of Community Health Centers in Washington, D.C. Ms. Knight has years of experience in aging services, specifically in home- and community-based services for dual-eligible populations. Ms. Knight interned for two years at both an Area Agency on Aging and a skilled nursing facility, and she holds a B.A. and an M.P.H. from the University of Florida.
Jake is dedicated to creating social change through advocacy on behalf of those in need. Most recently, he served as the Carr Center Fellow at A Better Balance. His introduction to health coverage issues came while an intern at ABC for Health, located in his native state of Wisconsin. Jake graduated from Notre Dame with a B.A. and NYU with a J.D. Previously, he taught high school in New Orleans.
Before joining Medicare Rights, Ms. McElroy was the Office Manager of John Bauers Music Productions. She worked in the Dublin and London branch offices of USIT, an Irish Student Travel organization., before moving from her native Ireland to become Manager of their New York Office, where she administered a cultural work-exchange program for Irish students traveling to the U.S. She served for several years as a Volunteer Coordinator at the Elysian Charter School of Hoboken. She is a graduate of University College Dublin with a B.A. in Psychology and Politics.
Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, Ellen Minton was an Account Executive at Alcatel-Lucent, where she was responsible for the marketing and sales of telecommunications equipment. She joined Medicare Rights as a volunteer in March 2011. She has a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. from New York University.
Samantha Morales graduated from the New School University for Social Research with a master’s in Political Science. She is fluent in both Spanish and English, and has extensive field experience working with vulnerable communities in projects that focus on education and health care issues. Having spent two semesters abroad in Salamanca, Spain and Santiago, Chile, Ms. Morales has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and Europe. She comes to the Medicare Rights Center with a commitment to assist members of the Medicare-eligible community to obtain affordable, quality health care.
Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, Sarah Murdoch worked in Chicago coordinating community based services to older adults which included assistance with benefits, long-term care counseling, and non-medical homecare. There she also supervised a team of Senior Medicare Patrol volunteers in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Ms. Murdoch has extensive experience working with older adults including work with an Area Agency on Aging, in Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and over five years of volunteer work in low-income senior housing on Chicago’s north side. Ms. Murdoch earned her M.S.W. from Washington University in St. Louis, with a focus on gerontology and policy, and earned a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Chicago.
Kojo Osei is a graduate of Swarthmore College with a B.A. in Biology. Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, Kojo interned with the Agent Orange in Vietnam Program at the New York Aspen Institute, where he analyzed the relationship between dioxin exposure and health disparities in Vietnam. He also served as a student researcher with Swarthmore College’s Chinese Water Policy summer program, where he observed the efficacy of China’s resettlement compensation scheme. Kojo is excited to learn more about Medicare and general health care policy, as well as to assist older adults and people with disabilities in getting the care they need.
Mr. Riccardi is dedicated to helping older adults and people with disabilities access affordable health care. His consumer advocacy and counseling work was featured in “Doggedly Persistent: Helping the Elderly Untie Medicare Knots” in The New York Times in 2007. He has trained professionals in the human services field on Medicare issues, and given presentations to hundreds of consumers throughout New York City. Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, he worked for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) as the Office Administrator. He has an M.S.W. degree from the Hunter College School of Social Work, with a special focus on Aging and professional leadership.

Stacy Sanders was formerly Director of National Neighbors Silver at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). Prior to joining NCRC, she was Director of the Elder Economic Security Initiative (Elder Initiative) at Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), where she worked with state- and community-based organizations across the country to promote the use of an economic security framework and tools in senior programs and policies. She has also served as a National Advisory Panel member on the Social Work Leadership Institute’s Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education.

Sanders has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and is the recipient of a McGregor Geriatric Fellowship award. She is also a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and serves on the National Commission for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Consumer Advisory Board and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) Center for Benefits Access Advisory Board. Additionally, she is a past Executive Fellow of the Center for Progressive Leadership, and a co-chair of the Health Committee of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations.

Sailendra Nath Sarker has been an Administrative Assistant at the Medicare Rights Center since December 1997. Prior to this position he worked for Asiatic American Technologies for one year as an Administrative Assistant and worked as a designer and news composer for a newspaper for three years. He graduated from Monroe College with a B.B.A. in Computer Information Systems.
Casey joined the Medicare Rights Center in 2011 as Client Services Counsel. Today, she focuses on education and federal policy, helping deliver accessible and accurate education materials to Medicare beneficiaries and the professionals who serve them. Casey regularly gives presentations on current developments in Medicare. She also advances the policy goals of the Medicare Rights Center through the administrative rule-making process and supports Medicare Rights’ close working relationship with legislators and their staff.

Casey earned her law degree, magna cum laude, from New York University School of Law, where she was elected to Order of the Coif. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Ethics from Brown University. She is admitted to the bars of New York and Maine.

Ariel Seiersen is a graduate of Boston University, where she received her B.A. in Biology. Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, Ariel spent several years volunteering at Assisted Living, Rehabilitation, and Nursing facilities, where she engaged directly with older adults and developed a passion for working with them to ensure their access to quality, affordable health care.
Carolyn Sharzer graduated from Emory University with a B.S. in Anthropology & Human Biology and Spanish. As an undergraduate, she interned with the Region IV Office of the Administration for Children and Families, where she worked in the Office of Family Assistance on issues regarding Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). She joined the Medicare Rights Center after completing the AVODAH fellowship with the Evelyn Frank Legal Resources Program of the New York Legal Assistance Group, where she advocated for seniors and individuals with disabilities on Medicare and Medicaid issues. At the Medicare Rights Center, Carolyn hopes to further her knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid in order to increase equitable access to health care for all in the U.S.
Beth Shyken is committed to helping individuals navigate government systems and programs as well as ensuring that individuals receive the rights to which they are entitled.  Ms. Shyken graduated with a J.D. from City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, and during her Health Concentration program she worked on setting up the New York State Health Benefit Exchange. Prior to law school Beth was a teacher in Chicago. She has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and an M.Ed. from DePaul University.
Laurie Thomashow is a graduate of Columbia School of Social Work, where she received her MSW in Advanced Clinical Social Work. Prior to joining the Medicare Rights Center, Laurie interned at a mental health rehabilitation facility where she engaged directly with younger and older adults to counsel and empower them to ensure their success in accessing health, housing, and employment benefits. Laurie has a passion for working with the underserved populations both locally and nationally.
Rachel Upton graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with Bachelors of Arts in Public Health and Gender & Women’s Studies. As an undergraduate, Rachel gained experience in counseling and clinical health work by volunteering at the Berkeley Free Clinic, focusing on addressing prevention and issues related to HIV and sexual health. After finishing her degree, she continued to build and expand upon these skills, working as a Reproductive Health Specialist for Planned Parenthood Northern California. Rachel is eager to be exposed to an extensive amount of health care policy at the Medicare Rights Center and to use this knowledge, with her client service experience, to assist clients in navigating such a complex system, as well as to increase access to adequate and appropriate health care for the general population.
Scarlet Watts is the director of outreach and engagement for the Medicare Rights Center. In this role she shares information about the organization’s services and expertise with health care professionals, supporters, and the public. She has been with the organization since 2006, and is committed to working toward health care access for all. Ms. Watts has a B.S. in Biology from Hofstra University.
Norman Weintraub is an Enrollment Specialist for both the Extra Help and Medicare Savings Programs. He is a member of ReServe, a program that connects experienced retired professionals with public service opportunities. He joined the Medicare Rights Center in December 2005 after employment with the Department for the Aging in New York City. Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, he is a true native New Yorker.