TRURO — The staffing shortage at the Truro Council on Aging has meant reduced services, including van rides and Friday lunches. But Town Manager Darrin Tangeman told about 100 people who came to his Jan. 19 presentation on the subject that the dry spell in hiring at the COA should be over by the end of this month.
The council on aging is missing an office assistant, an outreach coordinator, two van drivers, and a cook. But as of Jan. 23, there is a new COA deputy director: Eastham resident Michelle Peterson. She is a social worker who previously worked in long-term care at Liberty Commons in Chatham, she told the Independent. Her starting salary in Truro is $83,076.
The role of COA director has been vacant for over a year, during which the town’s whole organizational chart for community services changed. Damion Clements, who had been the town’s recreation director, was promoted to community services director. Then, two former director positions, in recreation and at the COA, became deputy director jobs.
At the Jan. 19 meeting, Tangeman told the audience that he wanted to implement this structure so that one supervisor can help when there are vacancies on either side of the community center.
When COA outreach coordinator Elton Cutler resigned two weeks ago, shortly after the chef who prepared the Friday lunches departed, Clements and the new recreation director, Austin Smith, were able to pick up some of the work at the COA, Tangeman said.
Meanwhile, Tangeman said interviews were underway for a new office assistant and outreach coordinator, and both jobs should be filled soon. Tangeman credited a pay increase for van drivers from $16 to $24 an hour with several drivers’ applications rolling in.
But during the Jan. 19 meeting, seniors wanted to know why there had been such a longstanding vacancy in the COA deputy director’s role — and what the recent resignations of outreach coordinator Cutler and office assistant Chelsea Micks, who took a similar job at the Wellfleet Adult Community Center, were all about. They asked when the community center would reopen on Mondays — a pandemic-era closure that continues due to a lack of staff, Clements said.
Full staffing, Tangeman said, would allow the building to be open on Mondays.
Without Cutler, seniors wanted to know, who will help them with Medicare forms?
Brianne Smith, head of the Outer Cape Health Services community navigator program, will reply to queries about Medicare, fuel assistance, and other services while the town finds a new outreach coordinator, Tangeman said.
Who will help them fill out their tax forms? The AARP Tax-Aide program will be held two days a week in February and March, said Clements.
Mary Abt, who teaches ukulele at the COA, asked if the employees who recently left had been invited to apply for the open jobs or offered the higher salaries that resulted from a recent compensation classification study.
Yes, Tangeman said, but they left anyway for promotions in other towns. There is a regional staffing crisis, he said, and towns are now “cannibalizing” staff from other towns.
“When I look at what is going on, I see a lot of administrators, and we have lost all our workers,” Abt said. “As a senior citizen, I have real concerns. Who is going to be there?”
“Both Austin and Damion are driving our vehicles to provide transportation services,” Tangeman said. “They will serve the community in whatever way they can while we get fully staffed,” he added.
“Thank you for coming to the ends of the Earth to take care of us,” Abt said.
Peterson, the new deputy director, was not at the meeting. But on Jan. 24 she told the Independent, “I am looking forward to bringing life back to the COA.” She seemed confident she would soon have new colleagues to work with. “We are on the cusp of making several hires,” she said.
Peterson has lived in Eastham for seven years, though she has been coming to her family’s home there since 1970 — the year she was born, she said. She has two children, a daughter about to graduate from UMass and a son who is a sophomore at Nauset Regional High School, she said.
Peterson is a licensed social worker specializing in gerontology. Social work, however, is her second career. She graduated from Lasell University in hotel and travel administration and was a travel agent. Right after graduating, she owned Cape Cod Bicycle Tours with a partner.
“But then I realized I wanted to go back to school and do something to help people,” she said.
In 2000, Peterson got a master’s degree in mental health counseling from the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Conn. She lived in Holden and worked for eight years at the Jewish Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Worcester, mostly as a medical social worker. She is currently studying to become a licensed mental health counselor through the dept. of gerontology at UMass Boston, according to a press release from Tangeman.
Peterson is “knowledgeable at navigating the health-care system and has significant expertise in care management applications including Medicare/Medicaid, current state health regulations, and more,” Tangeman stated.