April 17, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
April 17, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Putting the “Family” Back Into Jewish Services: JFS MetroWest Services for Older Adults

(Part II of a series)

Florham Park, NJ—Jewish Family Service of MetroWest is committed to providing support for any and all life-cycle challenges. With older adults being one of the fastest-growing populations, often with the least support, JFS MetroWest has an entire division dedicated to supporting these people and their families as they move through all phases of the aging process.

Susan Schechter is Clinical Coordinator of Older Adult Services at JFS MetroWest, and she and her staff of a dozen social workers help support older adults to enable them to remain in the community safely and independently for as long as possible. The general rule, because of Medicare, is that this support is available to people 65 and over, but health issues can contribute to these services becoming necessary for people as young as their late 50s. With people generally living longer these days, often much longer than they ever anticipated, services can be required for those well into their 90s and beyond. The goal in all cases is to keep these people in the community until such time as the individual, often along with his or her family, decides a threshold has been crossed and alternate living arrangements are necessary.

Services range from mental health services for the older adult, such as counseling at the JFS MW offices or in the home; to services for the client’s adult children or caregivers, whether in person or by phone; to helping secure legal services, home health care services, or geriatricians; to providing volunteers to help the older adult with simple household tasks such as paying bills. Often, JFS MW fills the role of family in cases where the older adult lives in the community and his or her adult children live elsewhere or when parent and adult child are estranged.

With this aging population, issues often include anxiety or depression, family or health issues, or financial troubles. In some cases, older adults are predeceased by their adult children, and JFS MW is there to provide bereavement support. Additionally, support is available to help manage loss of independence, health, hearing, cognitive function, and more. Sometimes, the support required is navigating the complexities of Medicare.

“Medicare does not pay for nursing home placement or ongoing home health aide services. This is one of the biggest misconceptions that we deal with,” commented Schechter.

Caregiver support can be provided by phone, mail, and email for adult children living within or outside of the community. Care Consultation is available to provide guidance and emotional support when the adult child faces challenges or feels overwhelmed. The social workers can provide referrals to relevant outside services that meet the client’s needs, or merely offer support or information as needed. Appointments are done by phone, and follow-up is always provided, either on a scheduled or as-needed basis.

Additionally, out-of-town family can request that JFS MW social workers visit their older adult family member and perform an assessment. This generally takes about two hours, and involves a home safety check, cognitive assessment, depression and nutritional screening, financial discussion and assessment, and social assessment. It culminates in a cumulative written report regarding the entirety of the older adult’s personal situation and how best to care for them going forward.

There is also caregiver support available to people caring for Alzheimer’s patients. Early-stage dementia patients are often in denial, not realizing the extent or future of their illness. JFS MW helps adult children ensure that their parents are safe and cared for, even when these older adults refuse their assistance. Managing this resistance, along with the transitions and decision making involved, is a large part of the services that JFS MW provides.

Additionally, the social workers help adult children accept that sometimes, even if a situation is not safe, they cannot force the issue and must be patient and wait until the older adult becomes less resistant to the changes being presented. They help families establish a plan, even if that plan cannot be implemented because all the involved parties are not yet on board.

The Essex County Friend Advocate Program recruits and trains volunteers to help older adults manage their finances, obtain public benefits, and access relevant community services. These volunteers provide friendship, companionship, and support to the older adults, and themselves receive ongoing support and supervision from professional Friend Advocate staff members. These services are free and administered throughout Essex County, providing the older adults with a supportive hand to help them maintain their independence.

The Retired Senior and Volunteer Program (RSVP) is another important program run by JFS MW. It is intended for seniors ages 55+, and connects these individuals with volunteer opportunities in the community. The program benefits the older adults by giving them purpose, and the agencies involved by providing them with capable volunteers. It helps connect JFS MW with other agencies and community members.

Listen to Children is another opportunity for older adults to volunteer in the community. It follows a set protocol and pairs older adult volunteers with children within Livingston’s elementary and middle schools who have been identified and referred by the school system. The volunteer spends 30 minutes each week with the child in the role of friend rather than authority figure, tutor, or therapist. This provides the student with a non-judgmental ear to listen to their feelings and concerns and help identify solutions to problems. Volunteers work under the supervision of JFS MW professionals with support from school administrators.

Just as services for older adults continue to expand in response to demographic changes, services for Holocaust survivors, all older adults themselves, continue to change and grow as well. The 12 JFS agencies in the state work together to divide the grant provided by the Conference for Material Claims Against Germany among these survivors as needed. This year, in response to the aging survivor population, the Conference provided New Jersey with a state-wide grant of over six million dollars, to be split among the 12 New Jersey JFS agencies to provide survivors with home care, hearing aides, dental care, medical transport, and more—any services necessary while these survivors continue to remain in their homes.

Cafe Europa, in its 14th year, holds twice-monthly functions in South Orange to provide survivors with social opportunities and support. Once these clients are no longer able to attend due to limited mobility or cognitive decline, the program often serves as a feeder for home care. JFS MW oversees the case management for these survivors, assisting them in applying for and receiving any and all grants and reparations from Germany and other European countries to which they are entitled.

Currently, 60–70% of the JFS MW clients are older adults and/or their loved ones. These older adults have often been the foundation and bedrock of the community, and are deserving of as much support as can be provided for the entirety of their lives.

“Isolated seniors are an integral part of this community, and it is our obligation as a community to include them and take care of them,” commented Reuben Rotman, JFS MW Executive Director.

A vital role of JFS MW is simple hand-holding through the often overwhelming and daunting aging process. “We are here to tell people, ‘it’s ok, you are not alone,’” said Rotman. “We help people through the hurdles and toward a greater degree of independence. Many of these people have been independent forever and do not want to acknowledge that things have changed and they need some help. Our job is to make that transition easier.”

In Schechter’s 14-year tenure with JFS MW, she has been amazed by the incredible wisdom and resilience in older adults. She has seen families from the first decline through highs and lows and everything in between. What has struck her most is that after that first interaction, these older adults continue to return as needed.

“We make true connections with these individuals and families that keep them coming back,” she said. “They trust us and have developed a relationship with us, and that allows us to continue to be able to assist them throughout their lives.”

By Jill Kirsch

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles