February 5, 2014
By Ann Needle
Sara Steele recently signed on as the first licensed social worker hired for the Town of Stow. Working Thursdays and Fridays out of the Town Building, where she shares an office with the town nurse, Steele brings more than 20 years of experience to the new position.
“The goal is to have this position reach across the town to all ages,” stressed Steele, who officially reports to Stow Council on Aging Director Alyson Toole.
Before coming to Stow, Steele’s most recent positions involved managing geriatric health issues for health care consultants Summit Health and Overlook Health. Steele described her experience as managing elder care needs across the spectrum, from health care to housing to caregiver stress. “A lot of time, I was focused on helping [older clients] maintain their independence and safety,” she described.
Working in Stow two days per week, Steele spends the remainder of her work week as a medical social worker at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Range of Services
Steele noted that, since joining the town staff in November, “Word is getting out that I’m here. Every week, I get more and more referrals from the adult population, some for children and families.”
Steele termed much of her work thus far as, “Knowing when to call whom for what.” For instance, she may need to contact a doctors’ office to arrange help with the physical daily care needs of elderly clients, such as bathing, she explained.
Of course, getting someone the care they need involves solving financial puzzles, as well, determining what services and insurance coverage are available to the client. “Helping someone make sense of what [benefits or services] they’re already receiving – just making sense of that– is a job,” Steele laughed.
She noted that the question of affordable housing also comes up frequently, as clients of all ages struggle to live in or around Stow’ costly housing market. In assessing how to make housing a more affordable budget item, Steele explained that she first does as assessment in terms of how clients and their families can save money. After that, Steele said it is on to researching what financial assistance or programs clients may qualify for, and where reasonably priced housing maybe available, even if it means going outside of Stow.
Another situation Steele pointed to as likely to come up at some point is the occasional emergency, such as a home fire and resulting homelessness for its occupants. “Here I would be accessing formal and informal sources of support,” such as any government assistance available, and locating family and friends nearby to help, she said.
Meanwhile, finding those in town who may need Steele’s services will mean “reaching out to the schools and parishes in town; the Police and Fire Departments and charities, too; they’re the front line in knowing something could be wrong,” Steele said.
Steele’s job is funded by a grant from the Stow Community Chest, plus a small amount funded by the Town as voted in at last May’s Town Meeting. But the funding was only granted through June 30, according to Alyson Toole. The town was waiting to see if there would be a need for Steele’s services. Toole commented, “She’s been extremely busy.” As a result, expect to see a warrant article at Town Meeting to make Steele’s part-time job permanent, Toole said.
Steele noted that she recently lead a group session for the seniors at the Stow Council on Aging, planning to make these get-togethers a monthly event. The purpose of these groups is just to give each other support,” Steele said.
Still, while the elderly tend to have more call for Steele’s expertise, she stressed, “I’m here to help everyone who needs it.” Anyone wanting to meet with Steele should make an appointment by calling the COA, at 978/897-1880, ex. 6, or e-mailing townsocialworker@stow-ma.