Answering your benefits questions

Meet the team that answers the call when you reach out to 410-516-2000 or benefits@jhu.edu

Patricia Garmon, wearing a headset, working at her computer at home.

Image caption: Patricia Garmon (seen here working from home) leads the Benefits Service Center team of five phone reps and three senior consultants who answer thousands of phone calls and emails every month.


If you've reached out to the university's Human Resources Office for help with your benefits, you are definitely not alone. In 2020, for example, the Benefits Service Center team answered 20,845 phone calls—that's an average of 1,737 a month—and responded to 30,317 emails.

The busiest time of the year, of course, is during the fall Annual Enrollment period, when the team's five phone reps and three senior consultants are in full problem-solving mode: During those two-plus weeks in 2021, the queries spiked from an average of 65 a day to 156.

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Leading the charge is Benefits Service Center supervisor Patricia Garmon, whose telephone command center directs employees' calls to the next available benefits counselor. The lines are open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, and "lunchtime is always the busiest time of the day," Garmon says. "We maneuver around peak times."

When you dial 410-516-2000, your call will be routed to phone rep Charlotte Karl, Megan Kiriazoglou, Jodi Rehak, Ken Smith, or Tamara Smith. The Benefits mailbox is managed by senior consultants Darlene Kurek, Michael McCormick, and Carlton Raither, who also handle communications, outreach, and retiree appointments.

All representatives are knowledgeable about all aspects of the university's benefits, but each has specialties, whether it's tuition grants for children, qualified life events such as marriage or the arrival of a new child, or benefits available in retirement.

Emails received at benefits@jhu.edu fall into seven categories: Benefits (medical, dental, vision, disability, life insurance, dependent care and health care flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts, and accidental death and dismemberment); enrollment and qualified life events; family programs (child care and elder care assistance, lactation services, and vouchers and scholarships); Live Near Your Work; retirement; tuition benefits (grants, reimbursement, and remission); and voluntary benefits (accident, auto and homeowners, critical illness, legal, and pet insurance; commuter assistance; and identity theft protection).

The team's goal is to always respond within 24 hours, though involved inquiries may take a little longer, Garmon says.

Most questions can be answered easily, but others take a little more stick-to-it-iveness, especially those with technical aspects. Garmon, for example, has been known to take screenshots of webpages and draw arrows on them to assist callers with site navigation. The team also has created a series of "how to" documents that can be sent to employees whose questions are of the frequently asked variety, such as How do I do 403(b) contributions?

The Benefits Service Center also approves "events," which include annual enrollment, new hire enrollments, and life events—typically more than 5,000 a year.

Educational and retirement applications also require approvals. Those transactions, by the numbers, look like this: tuition grant applications, 485; tuition remission applications, 436; 403(b) distribution requests, 610; and enrollment approvals, 5,400. So far in this fiscal year, 89 tuition reimbursement applications have been approved, granting employees a total of $114, 079.64.

Whatever a Johns Hopkins employee's needs, Garmon says, the team strives to do more than just supply an answer.

"We do a lot of counseling. We probe and ask questions to help employees make the best decisions for their families," she says. "We're always asking ourselves how we can make processes easier so that you're not stressed out."

To learn more about your Johns Hopkins University benefits, visit the Benefits & Worklife website.