COA’s Angela Smith offers a master class in multitasking

by Karina Coombs

08aKC AngelaSmith
Angela Smith, Outreach Coordinator extraordinaire. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Small is a generous term for the size of the Council on Aging (COA) office at Town Hall, which barely contains the employees who work inside. At her desk and wearing her ever-present telephone headset, Outreach and Program Manager Angela Smith shuffles things aside to make room and motions for a visitor to sit down, all the while continuing her phone call. You soon discover that Smith spends a lot of time on the phone. “When they don’t know who to go to, they call me,” she says.

Realizing the need

Smith has been in her position at the COA for ten years following a career in customer service with Digital Equipment Corporation and the companies that later acquired it. In 2002 she decided to return to school, taking night courses for a Master’s Degree in Management as she cared for her ailing mother and in-laws. “I started to realize how much need there was to help people with seniors,” she says. Smith decided to also pursue a certificate in Healthcare Management.

As part of her coursework, Smith designed a healthcare system for Carlisle, where she has lived for 30 years and served on a number of town boards. She spoke with people and organizations that worked closely with seniors, including then-COA Director Jane Williams, to get an understanding of core issues. Just six weeks later Smith’s current job became available at the COA and since she had already met everyone and the role fit nicely with her education, she applied for the job. “It just sort of all worked out.” 

It takes a village

After starting out at 16 hours, Smith went full time and works with Director David Klein, Transportation Coordinator Debbie Farrell and Administrative Assistants Linda Cavallo-Murphy and Myriam Fleurimond. Farrell, Cavallo-Murphy and Fleurimond work part-time, along with a licensed social worker who is available for a number of hours each week. Part-time drivers provide local van transportation.

Klein, with 20 years of experience in financial services, looks at the big picture of the organization and notes that the COA has one of the largest line item accounts in town, with over $100,000 coming in from various sources. A COA Board serves in an advisory role and helps determine the direction of the organization, while the non-profit group Friends of the COA (FOCCOA) subsidizes the COA’s state and local grants with additional fundraising for programs, replacement of aging medical equipment and fuel assistance or gift cards for food, among other needs. 

Volunteers always needed

The COA also has over 100 volunteers whose contributions in 2013, according to its Long Range Plans Fiscal Year 2015-2019 report, represented 4,600 hours of volunteer service to the town. And while this number seems impressive, Smith is quick to point out that she is always in need of more volunteers since people work in different capacities and with varying frequency. “Come near me and I’ll try to con you into it,” she says of volunteering. 

Carlisle senior population 

is growing

The 2010 US Census records Carlisle’s population at 4,852. In 2014 the Town Clerk reported that seniors (age 60 and over) comprised 24% of this total. According to the COA’s report, if you factor in aging baby boomers (those between 50 and 68) that increases to 45% by 2024, making seniors the fastest growing population in the community and with unique needs and concerns that will need to be addressed by Smith and her colleagues.

The COA operates as a social service agency within Carlisle and as such is tasked with addressing the various needs of seniors, as well as those of adults with mobility challenges. Both Smith and Klein are also mandatory reporters for the state. “If we know of somebody that’s being abused or in a tough situation, we’re supposed to report it to our local Area Services Access Point,” says Klein. Minuteman Senior Services is the COA contact.

In addition to offering a number of health and nutrition services such as medical clinics, free medical equipment for loan and Meals on Wheels, a variety of transportation options exist. They include a recently launched pilot program that provides taxi service from Carlisle for all residents, but at a discounted rate for seniors and the disabled (carlislematransportation.com). 

Outreach 

A fundamental and sometimes heartbreaking part of Smith’s job is outreach, checking in with seniors to make sure they are okay and have what they need, whether that is medical equipment, geriatric care, housing, financial, food or fuel assistance and/or general information and socialization. In 2013 Smith made 4,100 client contacts, averaging 344 each month. A report from December 2015 showed this trend continues. Farrell, in addition to coordinating transportation and Meals on Wheels, also follows up with seniors. 

Smith keeps in contact both on the phone and in person by attending the myriad of COA offerings outlined in her weekly emails, monthly newsletters and Facebook page. “We’re doing a lot more than we did,” she says, explaining that the COA has added many more programs and services from when she first started.

Smith also has volunteer help from a former psychiatric nurse who calls all seniors over the age of 80 to check on them once a year if she or Smith does not already know them. In addition, the COA encourages seniors to sign up for the RUOK Daily Telephone Monitoring Service that provides a scheduled call for monitoring purposes.

“We try to find the ones we don’t know,” says Smith. “If we know them and we know they’re okay and we know they know who we are, then we’re not looking for them.” However, with a growing fear of telephone scams, Smith says these check up calls are becoming increasingly difficult, as more and more people do not answer the phone.

The police and fire department, neighbors, friends and/or family members also refer seniors to Smith. “I think if people are in [the state] they know about Councils on Aging and so they are more likely to send people our way.” Other seniors come forward directly. Smith hosts a monthly show on Concord Carlisle TV (CCTV) and now that seniors have seen her on it for a few years, she says they feel like they know her and reach out. 

Programming and space constraints

Planning programs that appeal to a diverse group of seniors is another of Smith’s responsibilities. While the COA offers various health programs, she is always on the lookout for speakers to discuss topics such as music appreciation, art or history or residents who have an interesting area of expertise such as Jeannie Lieb and her Arabian horses. While there is the occasional Bingo game in rotation, Smith says that Carlisle seniors are looking for educational events. “It’s really important to keep people engaged. It’s not so much for the fun; it’s more for the socialization that is important to keep their mind and their spirits up.”

Smith relies on volunteers and donors such as the Friends of Gleason Library with library offerings, so that programs are either free or have a minimal cost. Without a dedicated facility Smith also relies on donated space. And while she cannot be as spontaneous with scheduling and is always moving things around from location to location, she is quick to say she has formed great relationships with the churches in town. “We’re very lucky. We really try to take advantage of all the resources that are around.”

Programs also need to meet the needs of seniors who comprise a wide range of ages and physical abilities. To help give visibility to the COA and attract younger seniors—as well as add another intergenerational program—the COA sponsored a successful Veterans Day intergenerational road race last year. It will be held again this year on November 11 (www.lightboxreg.com). Smith is also trying to offer some night programming that may appeal to younger seniors. 

Smith is also the clerk for the Senior Tax Advisory Group, and recruits tax workers for open positions within the town, interviewing applicants to match with departments. Tax workers can make up to $1,000 to offset their property tax bill. She is currently looking for crossing guards, help at the library, administrative and customer service help at Town Hall and help at the school cafeteria. 

Senior housing concerns

Working as closely as she does with the town’s senior population, Smith sees two important needs going forward: housing and access to geriatric care. “Senior housing is very difficult,” she says. “There’s six-year waits. People call up and think, ‘I can get in next week’ and they don’t realize how difficult it is because it’s limited and there’s more and more seniors coming.” 

In her outreach capacity, Smith sees homes that have considerable deferred maintenance due to financial constraints and in some cases has had to involve a social worker and outside agencies. “I think people see Carlisle as a very rich community, and it is, but there’s also a lot of seniors who moved to town in the 1950s when it was a farming community and they’re on fixed incomes. They get social security,” she explains. “How they’re living, some of them, I don’t know because their social security barely covers their taxes, let alone anything else. I think they’re not seen. [I] see more of that now because they are aging.”

Geriatric care

Smith is also a proponent of geriatric care management and sees the need for it in town. These professionals know the whole “senior scope,” says Smith, with most of them nurses or certified care managers and aware of what is available for help. They also understand conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s and know what path they are going to take and can consider housing and where somebody really needs to be. 

Smith explains that geriatric care managers use a number of other medical professionals who can help to evaluate people to determine need and placement. “They help families and [even] though they are expensive, I think in the end they save a lot of money and time and heartache so you’re not going down a path that’s the wrong path. [I] love them,” she adds.

“I think most of what I try to do is get people connected to the right place… I think that’s the hardest part about this job, knowing that you want to do something for somebody and there’s only so much you can do.”

To learn more about the COA and volunteer opportunities and upcoming events, please visit: http://www.carlislema.gov/pages/carlislema_coa/index.   ∆