The challenges of aging

The challenges of aging

As a recent retiree, I can truly relate to the cliché that I have entered my “golden years.” The past 10 months, since my retirement from Temple Avodat Shalom, have offered me both time to disengage from a hectic, fully scheduled life and the opportunity to choose to engage in new and exciting volunteer activities in the community. One such new adventure is my acceptance of a position on the board of the foundation at Bergen Regional Medical Center, the largest and, ironically, least known health care center in our community.

For a quarter century I knew that Bergen Regional housed the only adolescent in-patient psychiatric center in the county, and was the only place in our community that did detox for alcohol and other substance abuse patients. I also knew that it housed a long-term care facility. However, it has only been in the last six months of my involvement with the foundation that I became aware that Bergen Regional is the largest long-term care facility in New Jersey.

The 2010 census showed that the fastest growing segment of our population, both locally and nationally, are people 85 and older. Bergen county’s 26 long-term care facilities have approximately 3,100 beds. Bergen Regional Medical Center has 574 of those beds, and all of them are Medicaid eligible.

This means that anyone can receive treatment at BRMC, no matter what their financial situation might be.

These three core BRMC programs share the fact that the issues they are addressing are the ones that most of us are too afraid to face until it is me or my parent who needs long- term care, or me, or my child or spouse, who has a substance abuse or mental health issue that needs immediate attention.

I accepted this position on BRMC’s foundation board out of my understanding of Levi Yitzchak’s famous commentary on the fourth child at the Passover seder, the one who does not know how to ask. When it comes to issues such as long-term care, most of us are either too afraid or too overwhelmed to ask the questions and find the services and assistance that our loved ones need.

The primary mission of BRMC’s foundation is to be the advocate for the residents and patients of our county-owned medical center. The so-called golden years of so many of them – and this is particularly true for the residents of BRMC’s long-term care division – have been tarnished by both illness and financial distress. A second but I believe equally important responsibility I have as a member of this board is to bring public awareness not only to BRMC’s specific programs and services, but also to address and provide educational and informational forums through which we, the citizens of Bergen County, can address the issues of long-term care, substance abuse, and mental health.

In this spirit, I invite the entire community to join me and my fellow foundation trustees at the Bergen Regional Medical Center for the first of an ongoing community education series. It will address these poignant but seldom discussed issues of personal and public interest. Our inaugural program, scheduled for April 29 at 7 p.m. is called “Long Term Care and Your Loved Ones: What You Need to Know.”

We have chosen this topic and a panel of experts from the medical, legal, and social service community as our inaugural program because my fellow trustees and I recognize that the issue of long-term care affects us all, whether we are thinking about our own care or the care of our aging parents. From my four decades of service in the Jewish community, I know that the question of long-term care is the most avoided of difficult topics. It is very difficult to have thoughtful and meaningful conversations about it with our parents or children.

Recognizing that as we all live longer, senior citizens and their families face a myriad of medical, emotional, legal, and financial issues for which few of us are prepared, I have been honored to be asked to help plan and to act as moderator for this April 29 panel discussion. The panelists will be elder-care professionals from the legal, medical, and social service fields. The program, which is sponsored by the foundation at BRMC and held on its campus, will give all of us as citizen taxpayers of Bergen County the opportunity to learn how our county hospital is meeting the needs of the most needy in our community, and how it is spending our tax dollars.

I hope that all of you will accept this column as a personal invitation to join me on Tuesday April 29, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Bergen Regional Medical Center auditorium. Please RSVP in advance by calling 201.967.4098 or register online at