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NJAAW Celebrates 25 Years Serving NJ Older Adults, ‘Dares to Envision’ Policy Progress

To honor the milestone and draw support for its mission, the organization is spotlighting the top issues affecting the state’s growing population of older adults.

HAMILTON, NJ — October 198, 2023. NJ Advocates for Aging Well (NJAAW), the only statewide nonprofit focusing solely on issues impacting older adults in New Jersey, is proud to celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall. Through the end of 2023, the organization will reflect on past accomplishments and look toward what’s next for their policy advocacy efforts, adopting the slogan “Daring to Envision a Brighter Future for Older Adults in New Jersey.” 

“Influencing perceptions around the concept of aging is an important part of our work. As we recognize 25 productive years, we hope to inspire a clear vision of how a strong public policy framework can improve the lives of New Jersey’s older adults,” said Dr. Cathy Rowe, Executive Director. 

“It benefits us all to create a truly age-friendly society where everyone can live their best possible lives,” said Michele Kent, Chair of the Board of Trustees. “As we honor this important milestone, we at NJAAW pledge to redouble our efforts to advocate for policies and programs on behalf of NJ’s seniors.”

Since 1998, NJAAW leadership has confronted the most pressing issues facing the aging population. Highlights of the organization’s work over its 25 years include:

  • The Elder Economic Security Index, a comprehensive resource used to advance economic supports for seniors
  • Safe Mobility at Any Age, a program used to inform transportation safety for older drivers
  • Educational resources for professionals in the field of aging including an annual conference, webinars, newsletters, and special events
  • Expanding age-friendly work in NJ, dedicating its 2022 conference to “Building an Age-Friendly Ecosystem”

As it looks to the future, NJAAW is taking on a number of new initiatives, such as:

  • Partnering with PHI national to convene dozens of stakeholders to form the Essential Jobs Essential Care NJ coalition, which builds strategies to recruit, train and retain direct care workers
  • Advocating for a Multi-sector Plan on Aging within NJ

The 25-year milestone invites NJ residents to consider what it means to age well, both individually and collectively. Financial contributions are vital to ensuring NJAAW’s longevity, and in turn, the well-being of seniors across the state. 

“Aging is universal, which is why we can proudly say we’re working on behalf of everyone,” Dr. Rowe added. “We rely on — and deeply appreciate — continued support from our community.”

“Your support not only enables us to meet our goals for another 25 years but, more importantly, it contributes to the well-being of our precious and often under-appreciated resource, our older adults,” said Kent. 

To support NJAAW’s work for all older adults in New Jersey, visit www.njaaw.org/donate.

Are Things Changing in Hollywood?

Aging on the Big Screen

By: Cathy Rowe

Hollywood is not known for treating age kindly – especially for women.

But I have noticed a changing trend in the past year. Starting with the Golden Global Awards, where 3 top awards went to women over 60: Michelle Yeoh for her role in Everything Everywhere All at Once; Angela Bassett for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Jennifer Coolidge for the series, The White Lotus.

And let’s not overlook Kevin Costner, who was recognized for his role role in Yellowstone at age 66.

As a movie buff, I have been enjoying some of the roles for older men. As Tom Cruise makes another Mission Impossible at the age of 61, he is still doing most of his own stunts! Harrison Ford brings back an older, wiser Indiana Jones facing his life’s work and retirement. And then there’s Tom Hanks, who is classically ageless and beautifully translates so many issues of loss, grief, love and connection into A Man Called Otto.

I’ve been watching this trend all year, quietly impressed. But then, this weekend I saw Barbie. I won’t give away the plot or any secrets, but in Barbieland, everyday and everyone is perfect. When Barbie finds herself in the real world, sitting on a bus bench next to an older woman, she seems overwhelmed with emotion. I was expecting the next line to be an ageist joke but, the young Barbie (played by the beautiful Margot Robbie) turns to the older woman and says, “You are beautiful.”

What an honest and heartfelt recognition.

Even better was the older woman’s response – “I know it.”

“Building a direct care workforce for an aging population”

By: Cathy Rowe
June 6, 2022

This article was originally published on njbiz.com and is posted here with permission.

At New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, we are always looking at the numbers. So, consider these statistics. The population age 65+ was the fastest growing group in New Jersey between 2010 and 2020, increasing 26.8%, according to usafacts.org/data. This number means the 65+ population increased from 13.5% in 2010 to 17% in 2020. And the trend is expected to continue. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.

This trend in aging is a good thing. It represents not only baby boomers reaching retirement age, but also increased longevity. Not only are more people “older” but they are also living longer than ever before. The hope is that these seniors will lead vibrant and interesting lives for many years. However, an estimated 70% will need some type of support as they age. And so, our aging population will increase demand on our care infrastructure.

That is why NJAAW has partnered with PHI, a national organization focused on the direct care workforce, to bring the Essential Jobs, Essential Care initiative to New Jersey, and to build on recent progress in the state to support the direct care workforce. This workforce – which includes certified home health aides, certified nursing assistants, and direct support professionals – provides essential care to thousands of residents in their homes, community settings and in-patient facilities. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, direct care workers provide critical support to older adults and people with disabilities across the state. With our aging population, we know the need will increase just as the workforce is shrinking.

Inadequate compensation, limited training and advancement opportunities, and other challenges are pushing direct care workers away from this sector. With recent increases in minimum wage and demand for workers in other sectors, people can choose to work in easier settings for the same or more pay DCWs need to pay for classes, training and to receive certification from one of several state offices before they can earn their first paycheck in patient care. In addition, nearly 40% of New Jersey’s direct care workers live in or near poverty, and 41% access some form of public assistance. This results in workers paid through Medicaid being eligible to receive Medicaid – an unsustainable situation.

Caring for seniors
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, those aged 60 and older will make up 24.5% of our state’s population.

It is becoming more and more difficult for providers to meet current and growing demand. So, we are committed to building a strategic road map for recruiting, training and retaining direct care workers that will benefit all New Jersians, both now and in the future.

Currently, there are just over 101,000 direct care workers in New Jersey. PHI estimates that long-term care employers here will need to fill nearly 179,000 job openings in direct care by 2030, which includes new jobs to meet growing demand and jobs that must be filled when existing workers transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force. Our seniors are relying on this workforce to support them; we must do more to ensure it is there for them.

There has been some great progress in recognizing the need for and the needs of direct care workers recently. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office secured higher pay for nursing home workers under COVID. The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute produced a comprehensive report on the need for an across-the-board strategy to expand and prepare the health care workforce in the state. The Coalition for a DSP Living Wage made great strides in helping workers serving people with disabilities. Programs including NJ Pathways and Schools that Can are opening training and establishing career pathways to bring more people into this important field.

In addition, the state has committed funds to this effort – Gov. Phil Murphy earmarked $240 million last July to wage increases for a range of direct care workers; early this year, he signed into law a bill that dedicates $1 million to creating pipeline and career advancement opportunities for direct support professionals. These are great starts. What we need now is to work together to build a strategy that will see us through the current worker shortage, find commonalities, and create advocacy road maps with concrete and achievable policy goals and activities that will work for the long term.

Over the next 18 months, we will continue bringing together representatives from a wide range of providers and services in N.J. for a common goal – to increase and improve the direct care workforce. As we learned in the first convening of the PHI Coalition on May 23 and 24, DCWs have unique skills and character traits. This is a hard job, both physically and emotionally. Older adults deserve a workforce that is qualified to care, and also bring patience, compassion and dedication to their patients.

I invite stakeholders to join us in this effort. We are striving for a strategy that benefits all sectors of health care services. With a well-trained and fairly compensated workforce, all health care and service providers can benefit – whether inpatient facilities or home-based services.

At NJAAW, we advocate for what it takes to age well, encourage people to think ahead about where and how they want to age, and what they need to do to prepare. But no matter how strategic we are, we will never know what support we need until we need it. As they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” So, we must plan for a future where a significant portion of our population will need supportive services to age in the great state of New Jersey. This future needs a strong workforce.

Cathy Rowe is executive director of New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well. The Essential Jobs, Essential Care NJ initiative is supported by The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.