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Creative Aging with the Arts in New Jersey

Romanian Folk Musicians performing through the Folk Arts for Homebound program. (photo: New Jersey State Council on the Arts)

The COVID pandemic has shown us how important connection and community are to our mental and physical health. Virtual art events were a lifeline for people of all ages during the months of lockdown and continue to be, while in-person performances, classes and exhibitions reopen.

As New Jersey arts organizations welcome the public back to their theaters, galleries, concert and exhibition halls, and other venues, they continue to be committed to ensuring both physical and programmatic accessibility.

For older adults, research has shown the benefits of lifelong learning in the arts include bringing joy, strengthening social engagement and improving quality of life. When teaching artists work with older adults in any discipline — music, drama, visual arts, creative writing or movement — participants can expand their skills and confidence, as well as build community with others in the class.

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts is an agency of state government, driven by the belief that the arts are central to every element we value most in a modern society —  in good times and in times of challenge — including human understanding, cultural and civic pride, economic opportunity, creative expression, lifelong learning and overall health and wellness.

Through our programs and services, the Council seeks to increase participation in, and access to, arts events, experiences and opportunities for all people — whether they come to the arts as artists, audience members or volunteers.

Through our programs and services, the Council seeks to increase participation in, and access to, arts events, experiences and opportunities for all people — whether they come to the arts as artists, audience members or volunteers.

Mary Eileen Fouratt

Creative Aging initiative

Last spring the Arts Council received a grant from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and E.A. Michelson Philanthropy (formerly Aroha Philanthropies) as part of a national initiative, “Leveraging State Investments in Creative Aging.” This Creative Aging initiative is just the latest in the Council’s decades-long effort to ensure that people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds engage in the arts, and includes:

  • Forming and facilitating a Creative Aging Community of Practice for professionals from a variety of senior service and creative aging backgrounds to meet regularly and discuss topics of mutual relevance.
  • Developing an online knowledge bank of creative aging best practices and resources.
  • Offering the Creative Aging Learning Lab (CALLab) to teaching artists, senior centers and libraries in a cohort-based, 12-month professional development program.

The project will conclude with artist residencies in the participating senior centers and libraries. The Council will be taking our learning from this pilot project to strengthen creative aging projects throughout the state. To receive updates on this and other initiatives, sign up for the Council’s Opportunities for the Field.

Here are a few other resources that help older adults fully engage in the arts in New Jersey:

The Cultural Access Network

In 1992 the Council partnered with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance to establish the Cultural Access Network (CAN) Project to assist New Jersey’s arts organizations in making their programs and facilities accessible to older adults and individuals with disabilities. Since that time, New Jersey arts organizations have led the field in creating accessible programs and venues. Many provide assisted-listening devices, listening device looping for large areas, captioning, ASL-signed performances, large print, Braille, sensory-friendly performances, tactile experiences, audio description, and more.

In addition, New Jersey’s 40 professional theaters have developed virtual tours to give visitors of all ages the chance to see exactly what the physical layout of their theaters are like and now have one-to-one looping for their box offices. In 2020 CAN launched an Accessibility Calendar where you can select the accommodation needed, and a date range, to find accessible programs and performances throughout the state.

Folk Arts for Homebound

Another Council program that is not strictly for seniors but serves many, is the Folk Arts for Homebound (FAFH) program. FAFH was designed to combat social and cultural isolation experienced by those individuals who are unable to leave their homes without assistance from family or caregivers. New Jersey folk artists visit participants to perform or teach a traditional craft in the comfort and privacy of their homes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual programming allowed FAFH to continue to serve our states’ homebound residents. To learn more or connect with a Folk Arts for Homebound program in your area, email Kim Nguyen, Program Officer, Folk and Traditional Arts.

County Arts Agencies

Many of New Jersey’s 21 County Arts Agencies provide programs for older adults, which are funded through the Council’s Local Arts Program. They are a great resource for older adults to learn more about the arts organizations in their own counties. For information on your county arts agency — often called a cultural and heritage agency commission — email Mary Eileen Fouratt, Program Officer, Access and Community Arts. 

Families First Discovery Pass

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the New Jersey Historical Commission have partnered with the NJ Departments of Human Services (DHS) and Health (DOH) to launch New Jersey’s Families First Discovery Pass program. This program provides families and individuals enrolled in state assistance programs with free or highly discounted admission to arts and history organizations, venues, and programs -– both in-person and virtual. The Families First Discovery Pass Program offers broad access to cultural experiences for New Jersey residents while providing opportunities for cultural organizations to engage new audiences with the goal of building long-lasting relationships.

New Jersey’s arts organizations already serve many older residents, but there is always room for more. Whether you want to hone your creative side as a participant, as an audience member, or as a volunteer, the arts keep you engaged with your community as you learn, grow, and make new connections.

About the New Jersey State Council on the Arts

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, created in 1966, is a division of the NJ Department of State. The Council was established to encourage and foster public interest in the arts; enlarge public and private resources devoted to the arts; promote freedom of expression in the arts, and facilitate the inclusion of art in every public building in New Jersey. The Council receives direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey through a dedicated, renewable Hotel/Motel Occupancy fee, as well as competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Watch Episode 126 of NJAAW’s Aging Insights TV to learn more about NJ’s vast array of theatre, visual art, dance, music, museums and heritage sites, and how the NJ Arts and Culture Recovery Fund has helped them not only survive the pandemic but adapt in new and creative ways that accommodate older adults.

The COVID-19 Crisis at NJ’s Long-Term Care Facilities

We’d like to thank guest blogger and NJFA friend
Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, for her blog post.

By Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman

The COVID-19 crisis in long-term care facilities is an unprecedented national tragedy. Around the country, tens of thousands of vulnerable residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died.

In fact, as of today in New Jersey, more than 5,400 long-term care residents have lost their lives due to the pandemic. To better put this into perspective, these deaths are more than half of New Jersey’s total cases.

Not only are the numbers themselves horrifying, but the inability of family and friends to physically be there with their loved ones in their final moments-as facilities were locked down to attempt to prevent more infection-makes it all the more painful and traumatic.

I mourn and hold dear the loss of each of these residents and wish peace and healing for their loved ones. And I am deeply concerned about the health and welfare of the long-term care residents who remain, and about the staff who care for them.

As an independent state agency that advocates for long-term care residents by investigating allegations of abuse and mistreatment, the New Jersey Office of the Long-Term Care (NJ LTCO) Ombudsman has been in the forefront in attempting to help residents and families deal with any issues or problems they may be having during this health emergency.

The investigation process

Usually, when we receive a complaint or concern, we make an unannounced visit to the resident in question and obtain consent to do an investigation.

Unfortunately, those visits stopped on March 13 when the federal and state government decided to severely restrict any visits to long-term care facilities, including by state regulators, families and representatives of the Ombudsman program.

The sudden inability to go into the facilities to witness what was happening there–to see firsthand the staffing levels and the physical conditions­­–and to have to rely on phone calls, FaceTime and other technologies to gain insight into what was truly happening, was very jarring and required some out-of-the-box thinking.

Fortunately, the NJ LTCO has highly seasoned and experienced investigators who have deep contacts in, and experience with, long-term care facilities in New Jersey.

In addition, the NJ LTCO has more than 200 highly trained volunteer ombudsmen assigned to an equal number of nursing homes. Under normal circumstances, these volunteers would be in their assigned nursing home every week, speaking with residents and handling their concerns.

So, even though we are not visiting LTC facilities, the NJ LTCO is well-positioned to reach deep into a facility and identify the right person who can solve problems for residents and their families.

Our volunteers continue to keep in contact with residents in nursing homes and have distributed letters reminding residents that the NJ LTCO is still here to assist them with any problems they may be having.

The dramatic increase in calls and cases

Our investigators have never been busier.

During March and April, calls to the NJ LTCO intake line increased by 40 percent, as did the number of cases opened for investigation.

The types of complaints that we have been receiving reflect the deepening crisis in long-term care. Here are some examples:

  • A woman called to tell us that her 56-year-old sister was on a ventilator, fighting for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The long-term care facility in which her sister lived, she alleged, had refused to send her sister to the hospital.
  • A 71-year-old, bed-bound resident called the NJ LTCO to complain that she was not receiving her medication and that she hadn’t been changed–and was sitting in her own urine for more than 24 hours.
  • A nurse called to tell us that she was the only one who showed up to care for more than 60 residents during an evening shift in a nursing home.
  • A man called to see if we could find his mother, who was COVID-19-positive, had a fever and had been hurriedly moved out of her nursing into another one–with no advance notice to the family. He didn’t know if his mother was dead or alive.
  • A family member called to report that he was informed that his father had a fever, that COVID-19 was suspected and that he was fine. He was called 90 minutes later and told that his father had died.
  • Multiple staff members called the NJ LTCO intake line to report that they were not given proper personal protection equipment (PPE) in order to care for residents safely.
  • Dozens of family members called us to state that their loved ones died of COVID-19, alone and without family by their side. Most of these callers alleged care neglect due to poor staffing.

As this crisis unfolds into late spring and early summer, it appears that there is more PPE and more testing available. These are the two things that are absolutely critical to stemming the tide of this horrific virus and getting to a place where our office, state regulators, and families and friends can once again visit long-term care residents.

Stepping up outreach

In the meantime, here at the NJ LTCO, we continue to adapt to this new reality. While we look forward to the day when we can go back into long-term care facilities, we are stepping up our outreach to residents via newsletters, direct phone calls and utilization of tablets and smart phones.

In mid-May, we began to distribute a resident-focused monthly newsletter to residents of long-term care facilities. In the inaugural edition, we remind residents that they have rights and that they can always call us for assistance. In addition, we remind them that most of them will get a $1,200 stimulus payment as a result of the COVID-19-related CARES Act and that this money is theirs-and no one can take it from them.

Conditions at long-term care facilities; hope for the ensuing months

I wish I could say that the tragedy of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities was totally unforeseeable, but that would not be the whole truth. While the scope and speed at which the COVID-19 tragedy unfolded were certainly new, the conditions in many of our long-term care facilities were ripe to fuel this type of situation.

In the ensuing months, it is my hope that we will see the effects of this terrible virus wane in long-term care facilities. In its wake, I am sure that there will be a clear-eyed assessment of how we, as a society, could have done more to protect vulnerable elderly and disabled people living in residential settings. We have learned much about this virus and the terrible toll it can take in long-term care facilities. My expectation is that we all will apply the lessons we have learned so that we are better prepared for any future outbreaks.

The thousands of souls we have lost and the thousands of vulnerable elderly and disabled people currently living in long-term care facilities deserve at least that much.

For more information on the LTCO, visit nj.gov/ooie/. The LTCO can be reached by calling 1-877-582-6995 or by email at ombudsman@ltco.nj.gov.

Any opinions expressed within guest blogs are those of the author and are not necessarily held by NJ Foundation for Aging.