Meeting the challenges of an aging community
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Meeting the challenges of an aging community

Keeping seniors where they want to be

Charles Berkowitz, Jewish Home Family president/CEO, says he does not want to duplicate services.

“We’ve invited people – like JFS, Englewood Hospital, home health agencies – to come in and be part of the process,” said Berkowitz, whose Jewish Home at Home program was created last year.

Designed to reach seniors not served by the group’s other arms – Jewish Home at Rockleigh and Jewish Home Assisted Living – the new program targets those who want to age in place.

Jewish Home at Home is a joint venture, stressed Berkowitz.

“First, we do an assessment with the family,” he said, pointing out that clinical services for the program are provided by JFS of Bergen County and North Hudson. “Then we see if any renovations are needed in the home to make it safe.”

If so, a third-party is called in, such as Bonim Builders or a private company.

While clients pay a fee for service, “that rate is competitive,” he said, and the Jewish Home has committed, “as part of our mission, to provide some type of subsidized service to 20 percent of our client base who are financially eligible.”

So far, the program has drawn several dozen clients, most from Bergen County, some from lower Rockland County. “There’s no upper limit,” said Berkowitz. “This is the tip of the iceberg. There are so many elderly out there who have needs.”

Right now, he said, he and Susan Lilly, the Jewish Home’s director of geriatric care management services, are visiting local groups – synagogues, JCCs, organizations such as Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women – letting them know about the new program. The feedback, he said, has been positive.

“Care at home is dramatically less expensive,” he said, “and we can do all kinds of things: emergency alarm pendants, having equipment installed to dispense medication….It depends on the [client’s] ability to function and support from family members.”

Berkowitz noted that some local physicians have already agreed to visit clients when needed, as have a number of geriatricians.

The program will also utilize volunteers, who will visit the seniors and provide certain services at no cost – whether helping them change a light bulb, accompanying them to a concert, or running out to a store for medication.

Lilly said the program is there for families who see a sudden change in an elderly loved one “and don’t know how to manage or where to turn.”

Following an assessment “including all areas – medical history, functional status, mood and behavior, cognition, home safety, and financial resources,” she will write recommendations and plan a course of care, determining who should be responsible for implementation.

“It would need to be a very severe situation to recommend a nursing home,” she said. “There are very many things that can be done without having to enter a facility.”

“If [seniors] like a communal setting and want to be in assisted living for the social aspect, that’s one thing,” she said. But if they just need some supervision and assistance, her program can help them remain at home.

This is not to say socialization will not take place, she said, adding that program volunteers can take clients to activities such as JCC seniors’ programs.

“They may need to see people several times a week,” she said, “someone to do a home visit, see if they are taking their medication, take them shopping.” Or the help may need to be more specific; for example, installing a personal emergency response system.

Lilly said that some seniors, primarily those with cognitive and physical disabilities, are encouraged to attend The Gallen Adult Day Health Care Center.

“They come and have a sense of purpose,” she said, noting that the facility offers these seniors a chance to meet with peers while participating in activities geared to their individual interests and abilities.

“It’s generally targeted to a person’s condition,” she said, pointing out that the facility houses a social worker, nurse, and recreation specialist.

Seniors are encouraged to attend at least twice a week. Financial help is available from the Veterans Administration for veterans “who served one day in wartime,” said Lilly, and some county grants are available, as well.

The Jewish Home also offers sub-acute rehabilitation for those recovering from some kind of trauma, such as a stroke. To help them make the transition to home living, Lilly may ask organizations such as Bonim Builders to retrofit their homes to accommodate their new limitations. [See sidebar page 11.]

Lilly pointed out that, “while we hear a lot about institutions, and facility-based care is on everyone’s mind, the majority of seniors want to stay at home. It’s where all their memories are. They have a sense of independence; familiarity means a tremendous amount.”

And, she said, with so many available services and thanks to new technology, “It’s really feasible, practical, and less expensive.”

One exciting development, she said, is the TeleHealth program, in which the Jewish Home is partnering with Engelwood Hospital.

“It’s a digital kind of communication from the home to the hospital setting,” she said. “A person is monitored for certain factors,” such as blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar. “The data gets sent to a site monitored by a nurse. If anything changes, they call an emergency contact.”

Lilly herself is the contact for a 94-year-old woman whose son lives in California. “If she falls, I’ll be in the emergency room with her,” she said. “I’ll have all her information and talk to her son.”

“It’s so exciting to be at the ground floor of an enterprise like this,” said Lilly. “It touches everyone. There are currently 980,000 caregivers in New Jersey. It’s not an easy job.”

Lilly said the Jewish Home at Home program has fielded some 96 inquiries since January.

“One man called for his mother-in-law; one woman who is losing her vision called for herself; a wife called for her husband; and a lot of children call for their parents. But it varies. Sometimes it’s a niece, or neighbors calling for information.

“There’s no question that this is the wave of the future,” said Lilly. “We’re planning for our own generation and our own future.”

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