Elder abuse can be physical, emotional, or financial. And sometimes it can be all three at once, as Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey social worker Peter Jacob discovered during one memorable routine visit.
The new client he was assessing was a diabetic amputee living in a chaotic multigenerational household with no running water. His pension was being siphoned off by a stepchild.
Fortunately, this grim discovery came soon after JFS Central NJ launched Project CEASSE — Combating Elder Abuse through Supportive Services and Education — about three years ago, in cooperation with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The project, headed by Mr. Jacob, has provided services to well over 100 elderly Union County residents and it has trained some 1,200 laypeople and professionals to recognize and report signs of elder abuse, isolation, and neglect. Through CEASSE, Mr. Jacob was able to get this client an aide and other resources. “It took well over a year, but now things are pretty stable and they’re getting their needs met,” he said.
One of Project CEASSE’s funders, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, has now awarded an additional $30,089 to the project.
HFNJ has helped address critical issues exacerbated by covid — including elder abuse and mental health — with a total of $850,000 in grants to Jewish agencies, synagogues, and day schools in Greater MetroWest since the onset of the pandemic in March.
In addition to Project CEASSE, the $333,967 in grants approved by HFNJ’s board in December also benefited the JCC of MetroWest ($106,400) to support the hire of a full-time nurse; JFS MetroWest ($104,478) to continue its mental-health and wellness work with youth and adolescents; and Gottesman RTW Academy ($93,000) to continue providing mental-health support to teachers and students and their families.
Marsha Atkind, HFNJ’s executive director and CEO, said, “We at HFNJ are acutely aware of the difficulties faced by agencies and institutions in the Jewish community at this extremely volatile and uncertain time. We are determined to do what we can to enable our agencies to meet community needs and provide what is needed to ensure the physical and emotional health of us all.”
The foundation’s name does not hint at its Jewish roots and continued Jewish connection.
Ms. Atkind explained that the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey was established in 1996 with the $125 million in proceeds from the sale of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center to the Saint Barnabas Corporation, now RWJBarnabas Health.
“The hospital was founded in the 1901 by what would become the MetroWest Jewish community because Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice at local hospitals,” Ms. Atkind said. “So Jewish values are key to the work we do. We are committed to vulnerable and underserved populations in the Jewish community of Greater MetroWest. And we are committed to the low-income population in Newark and surrounding communities because that is the population the hospital served.”
In its 24-year history, HFNJ has awarded about $160 million in grants. Since March, more than $3.5 million has been awarded to organizations in both of its target populations to help deal with covid. The foundation, which is chaired by Amy B. Schechner of Short Hills, still has $189 million in its coffers solely from appreciation of assets, Ms. Atkind said. HFNJ does not solicit funds.
Early in the covid crisis, HFNJ awarded emergency grants of up to $50,000 each to help agencies and institutions stock up on PPE, install Plexiglas shields and make other safety changes, convert to virtual service, and distribute food to individuals and families suddenly in need.
Jewish recipients included the JCC of Central NJ, JFS of Central NJ, JFS of MetroWest, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, and Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest. HFNJ also awarded a total of $85,000 to 11 synagogues that responded to its call for applications for funding to help ensure safe re-opening.
Golda Och Academy, Gottesman RTW Academy, and Joseph Kushner Academy/Rae Kushner High School received funding in September to help ensure a safe fall opening for students and staff.
Dr. Cheryl Bahar, dean of general studies at Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph, said HFNJ grants last year and this year have enabled the day school to create a health and wellness model that has branched out beyond its teachers and its 200 students and their families.
“We hired social workers and started offering mental and physical health support to our own community and then to the wider community,” she said. Workshops were offered on topics ranging from suicide prevention to nutrition.
“We built a hub for wellness,” Dr. Bahar said. “Then covid hit, and I can’t tell you how important that was, because the vulnerable populations became even more vulnerable and we were able to offer them support.”
In the fall, the school set up a flu vaccine clinic in its parking lot for people who were hesitant to go to a doctor’s office. It invited seniors for an outdoor, socially distanced art class. It provided professional development in health and wellness for its teachers.
“I can’t thank the Healthcare Foundation enough, because if ever there was a time when this was needed, it’s now,” Dr. Bahar said.