According to the Congressional Research Service, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs, are generally defined as communities with a large proportion of older persons residing within a specified geographic area. NORCs differ from purpose-built housing for the elderly, such as assisted living facilities, in that “NORC residences were not designed with the provision of services to older persons in mind.”
Since 2002, local social service agencies have sought government grants under the Older Americans Act to fill that gap.
In theory, according to the CRS, NORCs “allow health and social service providers to take advantage of economies of scale within the community in order to target home and community-based services toward older individuals in need of assistance and potentially at risk for institutional placement.”
The Clifton JFS’ Esther East, whose agency’s NORC grant has expired, said her agency continues to offer aging-in-place programs in three locations in Clifton and Passaic, providing routine medical tests, such as blood-pressure screenings and diabetes tests administered by a trained nurse, as well as health and wellness programs.
“We try to create a community where one resident keeps an eye on another,” she said.
When the program began, programs were offered monthly in each building. “We had fantastic programs,” said East. Now, she no longer has the staff to put the programs together.
Lisa Fedder said the Bergen JFS runs a NORC in an apartment complex in Teaneck, although her group calls its program SAGE, Safe Aging in Place. Some 70 seniors participate in the project.
“The concept is wonderful,” she said, noting that the project is funded by a federal grant and also, in part, by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. She also receives some extra funding from the Alliance for Children and Families.
The idea of SAGE is to create a “horizontal community spread over an area to provide services, connections, and bring in nurses,” in this case from The Jewish Home.
“It keeps people aging in place and it’s less expensive for the community at large,” said Fedder. “NORCs enable us to reach more people,” having a focal point in a specific community. “It gets people engaged. There’s a strong socialization factor because it’s neighborhood-based. There should be NORCs popping up all over the place.”
Leah Kaufman’s JFS of North Jersey recently received a second federal grant to establish NORCs in Fair Lawn and Wayne, for which they have partnered with Clifton’s Daughters of Miriam Center. According to Kaufman, DOM provides the nurses for the venture, while JFS provides the social workers.
“We work as a team,” she said, “each addressing specific issues.”
For example, she said, the nurse goes into the federation apartments and provides preventive services, such as blood pressure screenings, “to get in there before a crisis occurs.” The social worker, on the other hand, may deal with the client’s extended family.
“We bring services out to where the seniors live and make them accessible,” she said, adding that the venture has also included educational programming on topics such as memory, depression, and “how to maneuver through the medical maze.”
Like East, Kaufman must decide what to do when the NORC grant ends.
“We’ll absorb those clients into what we provide seniors in general,” she said.