U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, recalls growing up with all four of his grandparents in his childhood home. His family had abstained from placing the elders in a nursing home. Inspired by their generosity, and his own experience as a caretaker for his parents, he hosted a panel discussion called “Aging in Place” on Tuesday, to learn about support systems that enable seniors to age in place.
“I want to learn about the different programs in my district: NORCs, Project Independence and our network of senior centers,” Suozzi said, “And understand the challenges they face.” NORC stands for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. “Senior programs are essential to getting people the services they need at home instead of warehousing them somewhere else. This is a very real issue.”
The congressman invited local officials and medical professionals who specialize in senior issues and eldercare to get a better sense of what services are in place. His hope is to draft legislation that would provide a framework of community-based resources aimed at keeping aging individuals at home.
“There are almost 310,000 residents over the age of 60 in Nassau County,” said Jorge Martinez, Deputy Commissioner for the county’s Office for the Aging. “In the next 15 years, it’ll be the largest segment of the population.” Martinez added that the county’s 60-and-up demographic is expanding in diversity as well as population.
There are 14 senior centers across Nassau County. Carol Waldman is the director of the Glen Cove Senior Center, which services approximately 2,000 seniors between the ages of 60 and 100. “The senior center is similar to a NORC in that we serve as a resource and an advocacy arm for seniors and identify and assess circumstances for those who might be in trouble or in crisis,” she said. “We also serve the senior who is well and healthy and wants to continue to grow and expand their life.”
Waldman said one way the center could become designated as a NORC is through federal funding from New York State’s Office for the Aging. Acting Director Greg Olsen said the office not only provides aging resources at the local level, but also works to redefine what aging is.
“There’s this understanding that at a certain point aging individuals are no longer valuable to the community, but there is much economic and social capital older adults can bring, if the resources are made available,” Olsen said.
It was through the state Office for the Aging that the Town of North Hempstead was able to establish Project Independence in 2006. The multi-service initiative, which partners with a handful of non-profits, provides town-wide nursing services, transportation, and recreational programs to any resident over the age of 60. Additionally, the project’s built-in advisory committees act as a direct link to the population, and help inform town officials about what its seniors need.
Similarly, the Mid-Island Y JCC NORC, which services aging residents in Plainview and Old Bethpage, connects with its seniors through its transportation service. This acts as a point of entry to ensure a senior is taking their medications or has substantial social contact. “You’re building relationships before a health crisis situation occurs,” said Director Alana Rosenstein, “So a senior can have someone they know come to their home.”
Suozzi said he was impressed with the initiatives’ partnership with non-profits, and use of volunteers, to help supplement the laborious efforts associated with aging in place. Martinez said sharing these types of resources to aid seniors is critical.
“We need to partner up and work together, because in some areas we are overlapping but in other areas we’re coming up short,” he said. “We could get all the resources together to serve the people. We need to care.”
Waldman said she believes the most important piece of the puzzle is promoting awareness of the population to fight ageism. “There is an older, thriving population with needs and demands, but also with resources and with value, that still want to give back to their community,” she said. “The problem is getting people to make that paradigm shift within themselves their communities that older adults still matter, and they still feel like there is meaning in their life if you give them the chance.”