The word “indisputable” drew nods of assent when Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ Dist. 7) used it on May 17. He was speaking at a gathering at the Westfield Community Center, and his subject was aging-in-place programs that allow seniors to stay in their own homes, or to live with adult offspring.
He spoke specifically about the LINKS program, formerly known as the NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) program, run by Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey with support from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. It includes a range of services to support seniors’ health, well-being, and independence.
“It is indisputable — it isn’t debated,” Lance said, “that aging-in-place programs like this that allow people to remain in their own homes, or to live with their adult children, are more cost-effective in terms of federal funding than having people in nursing homes, most of them paid for by Medicaid. We would like as many people as possible to be able to stay in their own homes, or with their families.”
Funding for such programs used to come via annual earmarks, now barred by Congress. Instead, said Lance, it would have to be sought in ways that allow for full transparency and fairness and that support programs like this with a proven track record of success.
May is Older Americans Month, and the Central federation took the opportunity to invite Lance — who this week received the Guardian of Seniors’ Rights Award from the 60 Plus Association for his commitment to helping preserve Medicare and Social Security — to visit the center and meet with seniors who attend a LINKS-supported program there. He met also with the JFS staff members who provide those services, and with Jewish community leaders. Loly Moreno, who coordinates the LINKS program, introduced the staff and invited seniors to take advantage of blood pressure testing offered then and there.
Lucille Talioferro, a 91-year-old regular at the center, made a point of thanking JFS nurse Rochelle Brodsky, who visits them once a month as part of the LINKS program. She checks their blood pressure and other vital signs, discusses their medications with them, and talks about issues like what merits a doctor visit, exercise, and nutrition. Brodsky, said Talioferro, “picked up on the fact that my blood pressure was very, very low, and she insisted I go see the doctor. I just want to tell you how grateful we are for her visits. We really need her.”
Brodsky herself mentioned the psychological component of aging well, and how the program supports it. “That isn’t something you get in a few minutes from a doctor’s visit,” she said.
While Lance will be seeking to get long-term funding for the LINKS program through other avenues, federation leaders said they are hoping to get short-term funding from the Older Americans Act Community Innovations for Aging in Place program.
The effort is being championed by Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ Dist. 12) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif. Dist. 30). They are seeking $5 million to continue the program in fiscal year 2012. In a letter asking their colleagues for support, they point out that the first of the baby-boomers reach retirement age this year, and over the next two decades will swell the ranks of the older adult population to 80 million.
The legislators said the program “provides a broad opportunity for the creation of community-based programs to support aging in place and to disseminate best practices and tools to community providers throughout the country.”