Our Blog

“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.

Reflection on the NJAAW Housing Series

A guest blog by William Cotrone, NJAAW intern

As the global population continues to grow/age, appropriate housing for older adults is now more important than ever. Most of NJ’s current housing stock was built for young able-bodied adults and nuclear families.

Currently, 30% of homeowners in the US are single and live alone. By 2030, 20% of the US population will be considered “senior citizens,” and most older adults would prefer to live in their own homes for as long as possible. But what if their home is not designed to accommodate them as they age? Fortunately, there are solutions.

Staying in Your Home

Adaptations and renovations can allow people to stay in their homes safely for longer.

For example, AARP has a free HomeFit Guide that explains how to incorporate universal design principles and products into homes, which are safe and easy to use. Most of the elements in the guide can be done without professional assistance

Another option is to hire either an occupational therapist (OT) or physical therapist (PT) who is also a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS). These individuals can make recommendations on how to repurpose your home to reflect your functional, mobility, and cognitive needs so that you can live safely and comfortably.

A CAPS will examine such things as the entry and/or foyer (Is it clutter free? Is there a rug that could cause a person to slip and fall? Is there enough light?). If an individual requires a mobility device such as a walker or wheelchair, are doorways and hallways wide enough to pass? In the kitchen, a CAPS will scrutinize chair height so that sitting and rising are made easier, floor space so that mobility devices can pass, lighting to assist people with visual challenges, etc.

Probably the most important place to have examined is the bathroom, especially since 80% of falls occur here.

Probably the most important place to have examined is the bathroom, especially since 80% of falls occur here. A CAPS can make recommendations on toilet height, grab bars, slip mats or bathroom chairs for the shower area.

For the rest of the house, stairs should be well lit and have handrails. Another option is a chair lift to take older adults up and down. Smart technology devices might also be beneficial for such functions as turning on the lights or a faucet.

For outside the home, thoughtful landscaping or therapy gardens make a great addition. Engaging with nature has an immense list of health benefits, so make an outdoor space age-friendly. Comfortable furniture for the patio area, safe walkways, good lighting and smart technology increase the ability to enjoy outdoors safely.

Getting Help in the Home

Knowing when help is needed and how to find it can be challenging. One option is to hire assistance directly or via an agency. While Home Health Care (HHC) covers skilled support services (including RN/PT/OT) and is usually paid for by Medicare or insurance following a hospital stay or during recovery, older adults may need a lower level of care to assist them with activities of daily living (ADLs). These services, such as toileting, bathing, dressing, eating, moving, and grooming, can be provided by Certified Home Health Aides (CHHAs). However, CHHA services often have very limited insurance coverage, leaving most people to pay out of pocket.

When deciding what type of provider to employ, consider the following: A family member/caregiver who hires privately may save money, but the “employee” might not have the proper skill set or be insured. Engaging an agency is more expensive. However, such added benefits as knowing that the agency has supervision, specific hiring requirements, insurance, licensed staff, and compliance policies, are often worth the extra cost.

Another option is Adult Day Care. These programs provide care and companionship for older adults who need assistance or supervision during the day. This provides caregivers with a much-needed break and allows them to go to work, school, do housekeeping, etc. Research has shown that social interaction in a Day Care setting improves an older adult’s mental, physical and emotional health as well as reduces the risk of developing depression and dementia.

Finally, for people who need more help or are near nursing-level care, PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) programs allow people to remain at home. While limited geographically, the number of PACE programs in NJ is increasing. More information can be found here.

Residential Options

When staying in one’s home is no longer possible, what are the options to choose from and how does one assess them?

First, independent living is an option for older adults who do not have severe physical or cognitive challenges. An independent living environment usually includes age-friendly features like grab bars, walk-in showers, emergency response services, community dining, age-appropriate entertainment, transportation services, etc. They are relatively affordable at market prices and many are designated as “affordable housing.” If needed, home care, paid by the resident, can be arranged.

The next option is assisted living. Residents of an assisted living community tend to have physical or cognitive challenges but are still able to retain some autonomy. Assisted living units are often smaller than independent living settings because they lack some of the customary rooms of a typical house, like a kitchen. Staff can help residents with ADLs and medication management.

The third option is a long-term care (LTC) facility or a traditional “nursing home,” which provides shelter and around-the-clock care for people with ADL and health difficulties. Reasons for seeking LTC might include that a person suffered a severe injury or medical emergency and needs rehabilitation to return home, or their physical/mental state is diminishing, which could make them susceptible to injuries or illnesses. Long-term care facilities can also provide hospice care and many offer memory units.

Pulling these options together is the “Life Plan Model,” also known as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). Residents can transition their living situation and care level without having to transfer out of the facility. For example, a typical transition might be going from independent living to assisted living or independent living to rehabilitation. This may be the appropriate option for couples where one needs care services and the other doesn’t.

For all of the options in getting help in the home, or relocating to an age-focused place, it is important to plan ahead.

For all of the options in getting help in the home, or relocating to an age-focused place, it is important to plan ahead. Unless related to a hospital stay, Medicare does not pay for home care or long-term care. If someone qualifies for Medicaid or affordable housing, eligibility should be established as early as possible. Long-term care insurance or private insurance may cover some costs, but most people will be paying out of pocket.

Aging is like the weather. You can plan for it, and anticipate what will happen, but you won’t know until it actually happens. Like the weather, aging and finances can change unexpectedly. Older adults deserve to live with dignity and comfort. They deserve affordable, appropriate and accessible housing and must plan ahead and know their options.

Click here for a summary of NJAAW’s Housing Series and links to the four recorded sessions.

William Cotrone recently graduated from Bates College with a degree in psychology and is and future medical student (hopefully in a field related to aging). He previously interned at senior residential sites in Lewiston, ME.

Warning on Scams Claiming to Support Ukraine

by Cathy Rowe, DrPH, Executive Director, NJAAW

Unfortunately, we have seen this over and over: Well-meaning older adults who want to support a good cause become the targets or victims of a scam

Why Are There Scams About Ukraine?

Let’s be clear – the people of Ukraine need our support and help. Lives are disrupted, infrastructure is destroyed and peoples’ health, welfare and lives are at risk.

Scam artists are despicable when they take the focus on a crisis and use it to try and rob well-meaning people. 

NJ has a high number of Ukrainian immigrants – the 4th largest community in the United States.  Many came over in the 1980s to work and raise their families, and are now retired. The headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is based here in South Bound Brook, at St. Andrew Memorial Church.

We know the compassion and concern are real. We just want to make sure the support that people want to give gets to the right place – and not in some scammer’s pocket.

We know the compassion and concern are real. We just want to make sure the support that people want to give gets to the right place – and not in some scammer’s pocket.

Why Do Scammers Target Older Adults?

We have this struggle – while we want to help older adults with technology and close the digital divide, we also do not want to expose them to fraud. We want people to be safe and be cautious online.

If you get emails asking for donations, check the address it came from. Do not open an email or click on a link unless you really know where it is from. If you go to a website to get information or to donate, make sure you are going to the site you want and have not been redirected to another site with a similar name. 

Also, the problems aren’t only online. There has been no slowdown in telemarketing scams.

Telemarketing has become an easy way for fraudsters to scams seniors. Many seniors will always pick up the phone – and have been doing so all of their lives. Since we are in our homes more because of COVID or the cold weather, we hear that phone ringing. As our partners at Senior Medicare Patrol advise: If you receive a call and you do not recognize the caller’s telephone number, do not pick up the call. Let your answering machine screen all of your calls.

How to Help Ukraine

Our advice is to donate through an organization you know and trust, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. Locally, if your house of worship is organizing something to help the people of Ukraine, or if there is a Ukrainian church or synagogue you know that is doing something, that might be the best way to ensure that your help will really get there. Also, large church-based charities, usually covering a diocese or synod, are trustworthy places to donate to if they have set up a fund for Ukraine.

We also see that some news stations have screened organizations that are helping Ukraine and are posting this information on their broadcasts as well as on their websites. 

Fighting Scams on Any Topic

Be sure that you never feel intimidated or pressured to give money or any personal information to someone you don’t know. If you feel pressure, hang up the phone. If someone, by phone or email, is trying to make you feel flustered or dumb, know that you are not. Scammers are smart, persistent and only need to trick one person to make money.

Also, while it may be hard, share your experience with others. Tell people about the calls or emails you’ve received that seem suspicious so that they can learn. You will be providing a service by sharing our experience with others.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of a scam, report it to cyber.nj.gov or AARP’s toll-free fraud helpline at 1-877-908-3360.

Finally, always keep up your vigilance:

  • Do not respond to emails if you do not know the source
  • Initiate calls or conversations yourself
  • Double-check the website address if you want to donate online – make sure you weren’t redirected
  • Trust your instincts, not your emotions

Cathy Rowe, DrPH, was interviewed on PIX 11 TV on this topic. Click here to see the video clip and read the news report.

Sanctuary

This post was written by author and clinical psychologist Mary Flett, PhD, amid the California fires in October 2020. It is reprinted, with permission, from “Valuing Ourselves as We Get Older,” the first in Dr. Flett’s new three-book “Aging with Finesse” series. Dr. Flett, who worked extensively with aging adults, is the featured guest on the 125th Episode of Aging Insights TV.

I ran away this week. Fled. Gave up the ghost. Abandoned my post. It all finally became too much and so I fled to a place that wasn’t in the pathway of raging fires, appeared to have taken appropriate precautions for COVID and held happy memories of better times for me. I returned home, somewhat chastened, definitely improved in mental state and capacity to face what is a continuing challenge, but also keenly aware of how much I need sanctuary.

I was intimately familiar with the location I chose to flee to. My husband and I had spent untold hours driving around this area, exploring the back roads, dead ends, as well as shopping, dining, and getting to know the locals. Even contemplating it as a place where we would retire. It is incredibly beautiful, has a delightful small-town ethos, not just because it actually is a small town, but also because it has all the big-city amenities that we had come to expect.

But this time it was different. And different in that slightly off-kilter way when the audio is off from the video. The places I remembered were still there, but with new names, and restrictions, because of COVID. Some of our favorite hidden by-ways still remained but were now filled with new buildings and without the quaint, small-town feel. There was an edge to the exchanges with masked store clerks and customer service folks. Lines were long and shelves were thinly stocked.

Maybe it was my mood or maybe it was a combination of the weather, which was overcast but cool, but I could not find what I longed for – that feeling of relief and letting go that comes from being in a familiar, welcoming place.

I stayed in a perfectly lovely hotel, now barricaded with plexiglass because of COVID, but reassuringly hermetically sealed from the room entry to the prophylactic covering on the remote. Still, I felt like a caged animal.

I stayed in a perfectly lovely hotel, now barricaded with plexiglass because of COVID, but reassuringly hermetically sealed from the room entry to the prophylactic covering on the remote. Still, I felt like a caged animal.

I planned on staying for four days, assuring myself that in that time the danger from fire at home would have decreased, and I would have enjoyed a brief vacation. But circumstances conspired to cut the time short. So I returned home.

Not much had changed at home. The fires continued to burn, the air continued to be unbreathable, and there were still bills to be paid, calls to be returned, and appointments to be kept. But I had changed. This is what is so fascinating to me.

I realized that my home is my sanctuary, and in no small part because of the miscellaneous unconscious items that I take for granted.

It was as if I had hit the “re-set” button. I realized that my home is my sanctuary, and in no small part because of the miscellaneous unconscious items that I take for granted. My shower head is adjusted to the way I like it. I know just how long it will take for the water to get hot. My coffee set-up is organized and the muscle memory to get that brew done requires only that I remember to boil the water. My favorite channels are easily accessed on my TV and radio. My bed has my sheets and pillows and my chair is molded to fit my body. The pictures on the walls, always just slightly askew, soothe my soul and bring happy memories to mind.

This level of familiarity is vacated when I am in a new place. And while the novelty of a different shower, coffee set up, working the TV and adjusting to pillows and chairs is an effective way of stimulating my aging brain, when I am depleted emotionally and psychologically, and when I am at my core threatened with extinction, that novelty drops to the bottom of the list and I am left even more fatigued.

I have seen this emptiness in the eyes of people whose homes have been incinerated in the fires. I have seen this surrender in the drooping shoulders of people who have stood in long lines only to be told the forms they need to fill out to start their lives over are located in another line, even longer. I have seen this in the shuffling strides of those who are homeless and now without work or purpose.

Where can I go when home is no longer safe?  I am not the first to ask this question. Whether it be women who are physically and economically tied to partners who make their lives unsafe or whether it is the increasing numbers of people who are becoming climate refugees, where do we go when our homes are no longer there?

Seeking sanctuary

In my reviewing these last few days, I came to the conclusion that I was seeking sanctuary. I was seeking a place of refuge, a place where I would find peace and tranquility. An experience where I would feel connection and belonging. For me, this can be found in nature or in the company of others. What truly brought me “home,” was not just returning to my house, but lingering in conversation with friends who reached out to see if I was OK.

I find myself wondering whether my time here in California is spent. I have lived here for 41 years – the longest I have lived in any one state. While I can go through a checklist of places that have lower environmental risk and are possibly more economically advantageous as I approach retirement, I now realize that what is essential is that I am able to connect with and build community. And that is a daunting prospect in these current times.

I understand better why some people stay behind to protect their property. I have more compassion for those who return and put themselves in what are irrationally unsafe environments. It is hard to leave a place that brings such comfort from the unknown. What all this has taught me is that I am going to have to leave sometime. It will either be by my own choice or because I am forced to leave. The challenge is knowing when to exercise my options.

Mary L. Flett, PhD, is an author, clinical psychologist and nationally recognized speaker on aging. She has just published “Aging with Finesse,” a three-book series of short essays exploring valuing ourselves as elders, connecting with others, and acquiring essential skills for aging well
and aging better. She is the Executive Director of the Center for Aging and Values and is launching Five Pillars of Aging, where she will be offering online seminars on aging
.

Home is where the heart is

by NJAAW Executive Director Cathy Rowe, DrPH

I recently had a discussion with one of my oldest and best friends. Both of her parents, who no longer drive, are facing physical challenges as they age in their bi-level home in the suburbs.

My friend and her siblings help with doctors’ appointments, meals and whatever else possible, while working, raising their kids and doing the things we all need to do.

When I suggested that my friend look into getting help, she immediately replied, “I am not sending my parents to a nursing home!”

This was the inspiration for NJAAW’s Housing Series webinars in February.

I will leave my friend’s name out, just in case she is reading this blog, but I think her reaction is one that many people have because they are not aware of the range of housing options for older adults.

There isn’t one large leap from living independently in one’s home to needing assisted living — there are numerous steps and choices.

There isn’t one large leap from living independently in one’s home to needing assisted living – there are numerous steps and choices.

Housing needs are not clear-cut nor consistent. There are a continuum of needs, finances, preferences and opportunities.

Housing is likely the biggest investment most of us will ever make — our home becomes a place we can call our sanctuary, and build memories. As such, the “where” and “how” we live are among the most important decisions we make. And these decisions cannot — or should not — be made suddenly or in a moment of crisis.

According to statistics, more than 23% of NJ’s total population is over 60 — and by the year 2030, all Baby Boomers will be of retirement age. Additionally, studies show that the majority of adults 50+ wish to remain in their homes and/or communities as long as possible, with a sense of independence and connection.

We need to spend time educating ourselves about available options, planning in advance for adapting our current home, exploring our next home and preparing for change.

We need to spend time educating ourselves about available options, planning in advance for adapting our current home, exploring our next home and preparing for change.

For all of these reasons, we are hosting the NJAAW Housing Series, bringing together experts in the realm of NJ housing to explore options at each stage and need, to help you make informed decisions for yourself or for the older adults in your life.

The series takes place online on consecutive Wednesdays in February at 4 p.m.

Speakers will explain strategies to help you stay in your homes with modifications and built design. They will also discuss options for getting help in the home, downsizing and when assisted and supportive living becomes necessary.

You’ll find more information at njaaw.org/events. Please register once for Zoom links to all four sessions Those who register will also have on-demand access to session recordings.

Special thanks to our sponsors for letting us provide this series at no cost to NJ residents: Raise the Roof Sponsors Parker Health Group, Inc. and Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NJ, Build the Walls Sponsors AARP NJ and New Jersey Relay & CapTel and Lay the Foundation Sponsor Springpoint.

I hope you can join us!

Avoiding COVID-19 Vaccination Scams

Guest blog by Charles Clarkson, Esq., Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

On March 13, 2020, a national health emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. After many years of running the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), I knew it was only a matter of time before we starting seeing SCAMS related to the health emergency. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. Initially, fraudsters promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.

The goals of the fraudsters are very simple: to obtain your information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money. The SMP has seen a number of vaccine scams. The more you know about these scams the more likely it is you will not fall victim to them.

Head-of-the-line Vaccine Scams

Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.

Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.

Survey Vaccine Scams

You have gotten your vaccine. You then get an email asking you to complete a health survey. It looks legitimate and has logos and telephone numbers that appear to be genuine. You want to be helpful because you are grateful you were able to get the vaccine. Some of these surveys are also offering money or other incentives to entice you to participate in the survey. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a timeframe of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.

Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double-check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.

Vaccine Trial Scams

There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.

Don’t fall for it. Be wary of unsolicited emails, calls, or personal contacts requesting personal information. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in October 2020 with helpful hints to determine whether a trial is legitimate.

Vaccines-for-Sale Scams

Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.

Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.

For More Information About Vaccine Scams Affecting Older Adults

If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 1-732-777-1940 or call our hotline at 1-877-SMP-4359 [1-877-767-4395]. You can also visit our website.

Find Help in Your State

If you live in a state other than NJ, you can find help by visiting the SMP Resource Center.

If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare [1-800-633-4227] or visit Medicare.

Charles Clarkson, Esq., has been the Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey, under the auspices of the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, since 2005. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey is a federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living and part of the national Senior Medicare Patrol project. There is a Senior Medicare Patrol in every state, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgins Islands. The SMP of New Jersey is responsible for teaching Medicare recipients in the state to become better healthcare consumers. As part of this effort, seniors are provided with information to prevent them from becoming victims of fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. The SMP program also assists beneficiaries in reviewing suspected Medicare fraud and can act as an advocate to assist beneficiaries in fighting Medicare fraud, waste and abuse.

Clarkson is a New York attorney who for many years was Vice President, Deputy Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc., a multi-billion, international food company.

Aging Well – Moving Forward Together

A promo for the conference.

Excerpt from a speech by Cathy Rowe, DrPH, NJAAW’s new Executive Director

For the last four to five years, I have been deeply involved in age-friendly efforts and communities, and as you have heard in recent weeks — and from some of our [conference] speakers — NJ has committed to becoming an age-friendly state. So, this is an exciting time with a lot of opportunities for all of us in the field of aging to make change where needed, keep all the best of what we do and attempt things we never thought possible before. Now is the time to reach high.

When [NJ’s Director of the Division of Aging Services (DoAS)] Louise Rush told us that 23+% of NJ residents were over age 60, even I was surprised. That’s a lot! It really is a lot.

We have known that the Baby Boomers — the bubble born post-WW2 through 1968 — were the largest population group ever seen in the US, and we have watched for 60 years as they moved through the schools systems, the workforce, started their families and now enter retirement. We built schools for them, colleges, highways and other infrastructure to accommodate this population growth, but we are still not fully prepared for their next stage of life.

Living longer; prepping for the future

Part of this is because when they were born, the average life expectancy was still under 70 years. Now, a child born today may easily see their 100th birthday. That is a big change and a rapid change. Nobody building new schools to accommodate an influx of students in 1960 predicted that those same children would live as long and as well as they are now.

There is a lot to do to prepare. Coming out of COVID, as we rebuild and rebound, we need to keep the lessons we learned and use them for long-term planning, to shape policy and make improvements. No problem that any of us were working on before COVID was solved — most were accentuated. Many new, or rather, unrecognized challenges, were brought to the forefront. And we saw some very creative solutions.

Aging is actually one of the very few things we all have in common. My background is in public health, and I was once asked how public health fit into healthy aging. I responded that healthy aging is the goal of public health. All efforts, research, programs — whether long-term or in quick response to something like a pandemic are with the goal to help people live long, healthy lives as individuals and as a population.

Not just aging — aging well

So, the question we face is: How do we age well — as individuals, as communities and as a state?

So, the question we face is: How do we age well — as individuals, as communities and as a state?

At NJAAW, our role and goals are aligned with our emerging from COVID, the review of the state plan for older adults, and the age-friendly efforts. For 10 years, NJAAW has provided Aging Insights, our award-winning TV program, covering topics that range from health, pandemics to personal finances and just about everything in between. We will continue Aging Insights as well as holding webinars that have provided interactive sessions with colleagues in the field who have found unique ways to approach aging issues in their communities.

Sharing, educating, advocating

And based on the response to our conference’s networking session, and the very active Q&A for presenters, we will offer more opportunities to bring you together for discussions and idea-sharing — one small benefit of the last year is that we can now connect so easily online. Meeting online breaks down the many silos that might block our natural interaction — either by service area or geography.

This is NJ and with over 500 municipalities doing things 500 different ways, it is difficult to see what another community is doing and find ways to implement it for your town or program or agency. We want to help in the sharing of ideas, lessons and successes you all have had in your work.

As NJ works towards becoming an age-friendly state, we will continue the education and advocacy we have done for the past 23 years. We will increase our focus on policy and joining the discussion on age-friendly efforts and the changing demographics of our state. 

2030, that looming year we in NJ and many states expect to see the number of 60+ year old residents outnumber the number of students in the classrooms, is not far away. 

We will highlight issues of importance with

  • Data
    • Academic research and
    • The experience of local efforts bubbling up and state efforts going down

Where do we meet in the middle?

Your plans for aging well?

I asked Louise Rush and members of the breakout groups what their plans are for aging well — and I am going to keep asking so everybody, start thinking. We are all professionals here, working to help people age well. Whether social worker, housing, health care, recreation, mental health or transportation — we are working now to not only meet needs but to make life better for older New Jerseyans.

But as the flight crew always tells us, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.”  Louise Rush said age 0 – 60 goes fast. Age 60 – 90 might slow down for some as you find new time in retirement or might speed up more with additional family, responsibilities, or new careers and activities.

So, do not just think of what needs to be done right now, coming out of COVID, or for the next year, or the next inspection or budget cycle. Think of what YOU can do long term and what WE can do together. What do you personally want for your aging plan? Where do you want to live? Are you financially prepared?

Whether you are new to the field, mid-career or counting the weeks until you retire, envision where and how you want to live and what you will need. Now go do it!

The time is now

The timing for coming out of COVID actually is good, if there could ever be a “good time” or anything good to come from a pandemic. What I mean by that is that we are re-emerging and rebuilding at the exact time other significant changes are about to be made. We are launching statewide efforts to make NJ an age-friendly state just as we are looking at the lessons we learned from COVID.

We saw the devastating fragility of some of our residents who succumbed to this disease. We saw that socioeconomic status, including race and income, had a significant impact on whether someone caught COVID and their ability to recover.

Lessons to be learned

More than ever before, we came further in the last year in recognizing racial inequities, which become more pronounced as we age. We saw some communities embrace technology while others were left further behind. We learned that we do not know enough about our older residents who live in their own homes, who are not in any programs or receiving benefits. What do all of these have in common? They are lessons we learned and data points we can use going forward.

At NJAAW we are going to keep doing what we do well — convening, educating and advocating for older residents. To be as effective as possible at this important time of change, we will examine data more carefully to identify needs and to help shape policy. Look for the data highlights we will include in our newsletter and other communications.

Data = direction

From my time in academia, I learned that it is only with good data that we can help shape good policy and then implement that policy as effectively and efficiently as possible. I am thrilled to have supportive and dedicated people in our statehouse, including Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and the members of the Aging and Senior Services Committee in the Assembly, and Director Rush shaping our next steps in policy and programs. At NJAAW we will share the data and discussions with you and will advocate for policy and the funding necessary to make NJ a state where we can all age well.

About Dr. Rowe

Dr. Cathy Rowe
Executive Director
NJ Advocates for Aging Well,
Photo by Steve Hockstein HarvardStudio.com

Cathy Rowe, DrPH, was named Executive Director of NJ Advocates for Aging Well in May, 2021. Most recently, Dr. Rowe served as Coordinator for SOMA (South Orange/Maplewood): Two Towns for All Ages, a grant-funded healthy aging initiative in a community with more than 6,000 residents over 60. This cutting-edge collaboration, based on the World Health Organization’s Domains of Healthy Aging, focuses on developing programs to address economic and infrastructure needs for an age-friendly community.

Dr. Rowe has spoken extensively on aging issues at conferences and symposia locally and globally and is an expert in establishing age-friendly communities. In 2020, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging presented her with a “Best Practices for Socially Engaging Older Adults Award” for the “Repair Café” she established — the first of its kind in NJ. An inter-generational event, the cafe brings together people of all ages and levels of expertise to repair and save treasured items. This also helps to keep such items out of landfills.

Dr. Rowe serves on the steering committee for Impact 100 Essex and is a mentor for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Previously, she was a Board member for the Interfaith Hospital Network.

Dr. Rowe earned her DrPH in Health Policy and Management from Columbia University, where she received a Fellowship in Public Policy. Her BA in Economics is from Bates College.

Guest blog by Mark Tabakman, NJAAW Board member

I remember growing up and watching my aging grandmother sit by her living room window, looking out, waiting for nothing in particular to happen – just watching her life pass her by. 

That sad, helpless memory always stayed with me, but I was never able to take that sadness and transform it something productive, something that could help people.

Then, 20 years ago, I became involved with the New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well (formerly New Jersey Foundation for Aging).

I joined the organization and first served on an Advisory Council. I then ascended to the Board of Trustees, became its Chair for six years and after my term as Chair expired, I am serving as a Board member again.  

Realizing a Wish

I wanted to do something that would make the lives of older adults more meaningful and enriched, so more grandmothers (and grandfathers) would not have to stare out of apartment windows. At the time, then-NJFA, with its emphasis/focus on facilitating seniors to live independently, actively and in their community, gave me the opportunity to realize this wish.

To me, it is the accomplishments and actualization of our vision that is most valuable, as it shows me that we are making a difference. Coupled with this is the engagement and dedication of our Board members, who seek to bring those things to life. This is all done in concert with the extremely hard work and devotion of our staff, who move our agenda forward every day. This is why this change in our name, New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, more accurately describes who we are and what we do.

We tend to think that “getting older” is something that is going to happen in the future. However, it is happening every day, and educating yourself about what you and your loved ones are going to face as you live and age in New Jersey, is critical.

Everyone has a right to age well in the community of their choice. As the New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, we will continue to provide leadership in public policy and education and work diligently to ensure that all New Jersey residents can do just that.

New!

Included in NJAAW’s name change is an updated logo and this new website, which is a portal packed with reliable information on programs and services available in New Jersey to help you live life to the fullest.

NJAAW will present educational forums and its Annual Conference (online June 3 and 4) offering development opportunities and best practices for professionals entrusted with caring for seniors. Our award-winning monthly TV talk show, “Aging Insights,” features local and national experts and connects seniors, their families and caregivers to community-based services and resources. The program can be viewed on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/njaaw/ (where you can subscribe and get notified of upcoming topics), here on our website and more than 70 public-access TV channels throughout our state.

This is an historic moment! Nearly 23 years have passed since we were founded. Now, in 2021, we have a new name, a new logo, a new website. Our mission, however, never changes!  

New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well. Join me in celebrating and spreading the word!

Mark Tabakman (MTabakman@foxrothschild.com) is a Partner, Labor & Employment Department, at Fox Rothschild, LLP, where he has practiced since 1987.  He is conversant in all aspects of employment law and has expertise in wage-hour and overtime law, including defense of employers in numerous DOL audits and wage lawsuits.  

Seeing Less/Enjoying More: Living with Permanent Vision Loss

Guest blogger Annemarie Cooke in Saudi Arabia, 2017.

by guest blogger Annemarie Cooke

You – or someone you care about – are older, and having trouble reading print. The simple act of scanning a printed page visually is now laborious and slow-going. It’s time to get that checked out with the eye doctor.

After running some tests, the doctor’s declaration is all-too-familiar and goes something like this: “You have age-related macular degeneration, which is the #1 cause of vision loss in people over 60 in the U.S. THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO. I AM SORRY.

Your heart sinks, the floor figuratively falls out from beneath you. Rage, sorrow, grief…all those stages described by Kubler-Ross run through your mind, seemingly at once.

Blindness is one of the lowest-incidence disabilities in the general population, so it’s likely you may not know or have never met a blind person. That doctor must be right; there’s no magic pill or surgery to fix you. Depending on the kind of eye condition you have there may be vitamin therapy or periodic injections into the eye to stave off the loss of more vision. It’s likely, though, that what you have lost will remain so.

Before we continue here, a disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this blog is not intended to dispense medical advice. Know, however, that I have been part of the scenario just described and have personally spent too many years being angry at my diagnosis of juvenile macular degeneration. My hope is that my experience may save you lots of time in the adjustment process. And while you might have been told there is nothing to be done, that is not entirely true.

Disability Perception

There are two commonly-held ways that disability (such as blindness) is perceived. One is the medical model: Your vision is diminishing and that eye doc cannot bring it back. That may be the case. Therefore, in some circles, you and your condition represent failure to a medical professional who has been trained to “fix” what is “wrong” with patients. Your eye condition cannot be brought back to 20/20 or whatever your best vision was. So, in a matter of speaking, there is, technically, nothing that medically or surgically can be done.

There is another way, however, that disability is viewed by those of us who have one (or more). Having a disability is just another way to be – a part of the grand spectrum of human diversity. And a disability needs to be accommodated so that a full life can be had, if that is what the person with a disability wants. Many laws guarantee this, including the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act, granting equal access to public places, documents and the like as a civil right.

Yes, You Can…

After your diagnosis, the next step is YOUR choice. You CAN have a great life, continue many of the activities that brought you joy and satisfaction before your diagnosis. Your part is the willingness to try a new way to achieve the same ends.

For example, you enjoy reading the daily paper, adore certain magazines and relish best-sellers. What now? You can’t see the print sufficiently to read it fluently and comfortably. Know that the digital age brings with it opportunities to get the same content by downloading them or playing CD audiobooks and periodicals. You also can use assistive technology – software that magnifies and changes on-screen print fonts and colors or reads the screen content aloud. These are just some of the examples of what is possible. Do you love to hike, take bike trips, ski or travel around the world? I’ve done all of that with my diminishing sight.

Yes, you’re going to need some new skills, tools and techniques, not to mention emotional support from other people who already have or are walking the same path as you.

“Legal Blindness”

First, have your doctor tell you if you meet the parameters for “legal blindness” (there is, as far as I know, no illegal blindness!), which is that your best vision, with correction, is 20/200. This means that you see at 20 feet what a person without vision loss sees at 200 feet. (Note that I don’t use the term “normal” here; in my life, normal is just a setting on a washing machine, not a classification of the way anyone sees.)

The other element for the classification of legal blindness is a visual radius of 20 degrees or less. This relates to the radius of what your eye can see.

Most people who meet the criteria for legal blindness do see something. Blindness is a spectrum of the range of one’s functional vision. Only 10 to 15 percent of us blind folks see nothing at all.

NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Legal blindness entitles you to services from your state’s agency dedicated to people who are blind or have low vision. So next, contact the NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI), which serves people throughout the lifespan. There are offices in Newark, Freehold and Cherry Hill. Their website is www.state.nj.us/humanservices/cbvi/. Call them at 973-648-3333 or toll-free at 1-877-685-8878 and arrange for what is known as an “intake interview.” A caseworker will collect the necessary information and determine whether you need training to continue a job you felt you had to leave because of vision loss, or perhaps you need training for a whole new career, or maybe how to live the life you want.

Have no second thoughts about requesting services from CBVI – you pay taxes and this service is absolutely there for us. Once you become a client, you can get aids and appliances of all sorts, FOR FREE, to make your life easier. A rehabilitation teacher may even come to your home (once the pandemic is over) to help label your stove thermostat, washing machine and the like to make them simpler to use by touch rather than sight.

Support Groups

There also are support groups around the state for people experiencing vision loss. Find one local to you by contacting Susan Vanino, the social worker at CBVI who coordinates the program, at 973-648-2821. You can also email susan.vanino@dhs.nj.gov.

Support groups can be so helpful. Their members also are experiencing vision loss and some of the best tricks of the trade, so to speak, come from others who are a few steps ahead on the path. (Many groups continue to meet by conference call, Zoom or similar platforms to keep everyone safe and healthy.)

National Federation of the Blind of NJ

One of the best resources available is the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey (NFBNJ), part of the National Federation of the Blind based in Baltimore. Check them out at www.nfbnj.org. I proudly serve on their Board. Be sure to look at the Senior Division at www.nfbnj.org/chapters-and-divisions/seniors/. This group meets by phone at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of every month. Annual dues are $5.

The 2020 NFBNJ State Convention, taking place Nov. 18 to 21, is virtual this year, and I highly recommend it. It’s free but you must register in advance at www.nfbnj.org/state-convention/. You’ll hear from engaging and informative speakers and learn about the latest in technology, including Smartphones that read the screen content aloud, dial the phone by voice and even coach you on taking a well-framed photo with its camera.

This brief blog easily could become a book so I will stop here. Remember, whether you are diagnosed with macular degeneration or a similar cause of vision loss, the choice of how you will respond is up to you. Be willing to achieve the same ends by using different means. It really works!

I’m happy to answer any questions or receive your comments about this blog. Please leave them here or if you’d prefer, email them to NJFA Communications Manager Sue Brooks at sbrooks@njfoundationforaging.org. Include your contact information and I’ll reply.

Annemarie Cooke began losing central vision in early adulthood. She has Stargart’s Maculopathy, a congenital form of macular degeneration. A graduate of Douglass College of Rutgers University, she’s a former award-winning investigative and feature reporter for the Daily Home News (now the Home News Tribune). She later joined Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (now Learning Ally), where her advocacy work often took her to Washington, D.C. She notes that the advances in assistive technology, combined with the wisdom and fellowship found in several support groups and the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, have helped her grow into a  confident mentor in a state transition program for blind and visually impaired NJ high school students. Annemarie and her husband are semi-retired and live in a 55+ community in Burlington County, NJ, where she leads a support group for seniors with vision loss.

Elder Index at Work: Defending Property Tax-Relief Programs for Older Homeowners in New Jersey

This blog post was written by Steven Syre of the Gerontology Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston, and is reprinted with their permission. 

multigeneration portraitThis article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

Late this spring, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy faced a big problem that was all too familiar to other governors across America. The staggering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had created a state budget crisis, with unemployment soaring and new annual revenue projections falling billions of dollars short.

Murphy approached the problem by moving back the start of New Jersey’s next fiscal year from July to October and passing a three-month stop-gap budget to tide the state over. Included in the short-term budget: Cuts to two important property tax-relief programs that help older adults in New Jersey afford to remain in their homes.

This was no small detail. New Jersey homeowners pay the nation’s highest property tax rates, about twice the U.S. average. Nearly 580,000 homeowners benefitted from one of the  programs under the axe and 158,000 others took advantage of the other. Both programs primarily benefitted older homeowners and the combined impact of the cuts was expected to exceed $480 million.

Melissa Chalker, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, understood all that. Along with AARP New Jersey and other advocates, Chalker immediately launched a campaign to convince the governor and state legislators to restore the critical programs. One of her key tools in advocacy calls and letters: The Elder Index.

“All of these communications would reference the Elder Index,” said Chalker. “It not only allowed us to tell policymakers that 54 percent of older adults in New Jersey have difficulty making ends meet, but a recent related report showed how effective one property tax-relief program in particular was in reducing the economic security gap facing older adults in the state.”

Melissa Chalker

Melissa Chalker

The index, developed and managed at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is a free online tool that provides realistic and detailed cost of living data for older adults living in every U.S. county. Combined with state-level income data, the index can also determine the percentage of older adults who have insufficient income to meet the cost of living in their states. UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute published a report on state-by-state elder economic security last November.

The New Jersey Foundation for Aging and the Gerontology Institute have been working together for years to provide state and local leaders with clear data about the economic circumstances of their older citizens. The foundation helped promote legislation enacted in 2015 that requires an elder economic security report based on Elder Index data be maintained by state government as a public resource.

A companion report, prepared with Rutgers University and a consultant, analyzes racial and ethnic details in the data, as well other factors including the effectiveness of individual state programs in reducing elder economic insecurity.

“We want to constantly use the Elder Index to remind policymakers and people in state government that there is a need here with older adults,” said Chalker. “Whether it’s the SNAP nutrition program, housing or prescription drug prices, we’ve been able to send letters and testify at the statehouse on those issues stating the Elder Index data.

“We’ve also used it to arm our partners, whether they are funders, county office on aging staff or senior center staff to help them meet the needs of older adults in their communities,” she said.

But the foundation had always understood that housing expenses played an outsized role in New Jersey’s elder economic security problem. The online index can help anyone get sense of those dimensions in just a couple of clicks.

Here’s how: Enter New Jersey and national average queries for older couples in good health who own their own home without a mortgage. You’ll find total monthly expenses more than 20 percent higher in New Jersey, compared with the national average. Housing costs, almost double the national average in New Jersey, account for nearly all of the overall difference.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signs the state’s budget.

Data like that explain why Chalker and other advocates knew how important it was to save New Jersey’s property tax-relief programs. After a burst of calls, letters and op-ed columns, their efforts paid off last month. Murphy signed a new $32.7 billion budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, preserving both property tax relief programs for the future.

“I think the Elder Index was crucial in terms of the effort,” said Chalker. “You can anecdotally say how hard it is for seniors and tell some very compelling stories. But you’ve got to have metrics if you are making the case to policymakers and the elder economic insecurity reports provided what we needed.”

About the Gerontology Institute
The Gerontology Institute conducts research and policy analysis in the field of aging, and offers lifelong learning and pension protection services to older adults. The institute’s priorities include income security, long-term service and supports, healthy aging, age-friendly communities and social and demographic research on aging.