Capital Impact Partners, Aging in the New Normal Series: June 29
Reflections on Creating an Age-Friendly New Jersey
"What excites me most about making NJ an age-friendy state is the potential to scale efforts to be consistent and reach more people throughout the state. I hope that becoming an age-friendly state will bring policies and programs up to a higher scale and level — we now have a range of examples and best practices from local efforts that can be expanded and replicated at the local/county/state level."
Q: What are some of the most important and critical needs facing older adults and their ability to age in their communities across the state?
A: "So right now, we have many resources and services for older adults if they meet certain criteria. But we need to be aware of the 'MISSING MIDDLE' [see below**], a term coined by Opticos Design to address housing, but the term captures the in-betweens. Many older adults are secure financially, in their homes, health wise, UNTIL an event that changes their life. And then they are figuring out needs and resources in a crisis. They are just one event away from needing some form of assistance.
"Many services are dependent on local providers but NJ municipalities just do not have the capacity to take on what is needed for an aging population. And not all people need the full range of assistance, THEY NEED JUST ONE on the continuum of care or need it temporarily"
Q: The pandemic and racial reckoning in our country has shown a bright spotlight on health and racial equity challenges facing our communities. How has this shown up in your work and where do we need to focus our efforts to address inequities in our systems?
A: "COVID showed us how many people are dependent on informal supports. It is the social, food, transportation supports that help people live independently, in their own homes – mostly houses, but we have a lot of senior apartment buildings for independent living with NO built in staff or support. That fell apart when things shut down in March 2020. For example, we saw people who relied on a friend, daughter or the town's senior bus for transportation to the grocery store.
"When those resources stopped, and they did not know how to shop online – even if you could get a shopping slot back then – they were suddenly food insecure. Does this mean they need SNAP? No – it means they need support. So what we learned is that there is no magic line where if you are above it, you do not need any help or services. And many of our official resources are based on a cut-off line – income, age or diagnosis. We need to start to think of need, not income, and soften the lines."
Q: What creative models and best practices are you seeing both in New Jersey and in other states that you think need to be fostered here? Where is NJ getting it right?
A: "Some of the best progress in NJ is in inclusion, civic engagement and raising awareness of the changing demographics and needs of NJ residents. It establishes need and possibilities and keeps the conversation from competition for resources. We are starting to see progress in housing, with ADUs – Accessory Dwelling Units – being approved in some towns, and an increased focus on appropriate housing and the realization that if a town is age friendly, it works for all ages. Transportation, which is appealing to retirees as well as 20-somethings, is also appealing.
"When Massachusetts became on age-friendly state, they provided funding for local efforts, which is a good way to move ideas forward and meet local needs. We are a diverse state with diverse needs, but each community needs something."
Q: What are short term, immediate steps that participants today can take to start to build an age friendly and coordinated continuum of care?
- Start the conversation.
- Increase capacity of municipalities to address aging population; some just cannot take it on themselves.
- Share resources and experience assist smaller towns/communities with knowledge.