The Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey has been developing and operating housing for seniors in the greater Metro-West community for more than 40 years. The organization operates four residences in three buildings. Together they have more than 450 units, the majority for independent living. One of the buildings — the Lester Assisted Living residence in Whippany — includes assisted living units and a memory care program. The other two — the Jewish Federation Plaza in West Orange and the South Orange B’nai B’rith Federation House in South Orange — are rent-subsidized and available to seniors with incomes below a government-specified level.
The JCHC buildings offer a variety of services to enhance the lives of residents, including transportation to local stores, a range of social and cultural activities, and stimulating lectures.
“Real estate development and management is central to what we do — but it’s not sufficient,” Harold Colton-Max, JCHC’s chief executive officer, said. “As an organization rooted in Jewish values, we do what we can to enhance the quality of life of our residents so that they can age in place for as long as they wish to and are able to.”
JCHC now can add help with activities of daily living to the list of services it offers residents. In January, New Jersey’s health department licensed JCHC to operate an assisted living program at its buildings in the Oranges. That means that JCHC now can provide assisted living services in an independent living setting, Mr. Colton-Max explained. “This program will allow people to continue to age in place, in their own homes, with their neighbors, with their friends.”
Assisted living services are medically necessary services, including help with preparing meals, dressing, bathing, managing medications, and coordinating medical appointments, and with telehealth visits, he said. “We have residents who move out of our independent living communities because they need a higher level of service, because they can’t live independently anymore. But people often don’t want to leave their homes.
“The license allows us to provide these services to our residents in their own apartments, so they don’t have to move.”
Mr. Colton-Max said it can be hard for people who qualify for Medicaid to find assisted living units. New Jersey generally requires an assisted living facility to reserve 10% of its units for people eligible for Medicaid. Since Medicaid pays substantially less than market rate for assisted living units, facilities tend not to make more than this required percentage of units available to Medicaid-qualifying seniors.
JCHC has gone above this minimum at Lester, where 20% of residents are Medicaid-eligible, but this still does not come close to meeting the need. There’s a large gap in currently available residential in-home care options for low-income seniors. “Many of our residents who move out because they can no longer live independently are Medicaid-eligible and have trouble finding units in assisted living facilities, so they end up moving into nursing homes,” Mr. Colton-Max said.
Now that JCHC is a licensed assisted living program provider, it can make sure that the approximately 200 low-income seniors living in its subsidized housing communities can get the services they need. “With our new assisted living program in place, some residents who would have had to move out, will now be able to remain in their homes,” Mr. Colton-Max said.
JCHC also hopes to use its new license to help expand access to these crucial services to people who live in other subsidized housing in Essex County. The goal is to help more low-income seniors stay in their homes as long as possible.
“There are thousands of low-income seniors in Essex County who don’t have access to this type of program and we hope to expand to serve more people who need it in the greater MetroWest area,” Mr. Colton-Max said. “It’s a unique program, one that’s not offered by any other agency in the Jewish community, and it fills an important and significant need. We are one of only 10 organizations licensed to offer an assisted living program in an independent living setting in the state of New Jersey, and one of only two licensed to offer this type of program in Essex County.
“If it turns out to be successful, which we expect it will be, we expect to start offering the program to residents of other buildings in Essex County.”
Stacey Wilbur is JCHC’s chief operating officer. Like Mr. Colton-Max, she is excited about the new program. “Studies have shown that when you can provide supportive services, seniors can stay in their homes longer,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do — to help people age with dignity in their homes. Just because they have low incomes does not mean that they shouldn’t be getting assisted living services.
“We started the program because we’ve found that a lot of people who live in low-income housing can’t afford to move into an assisted living residence. And we’ve found that a lot of people don’t want to go to an assisted living facility or a nursing home.”
The program is individualized, she said; a nurse assesses each participant, who gets the services he or she needs. In addition to help with activities of daily living, the program enables JCHC to provide social work services for residents and to coordinate medical care. “There are a lot of advantages when we coordinate the care,” she said. “Because we are working with a group of participants, we are able to partner with medical providers so participants who need physical therapy can receive it in their homes. Sometimes we can also arrange for in-home medical appointments.”
The program enables JCHC staff to monitor residents for indications that they might need additional assistance and for concerning behaviors, such as hoarding.
So far, residents have shown significant interest in joining this new program, Ms. Wilbur said. There also has been interest in a respite option — that’s when a resident can join the program temporarily when a relative is not available to help them. “Families appreciate knowing that when they are away, someone is watching out for their relative,” she said.
“The new assisted living program is a wonderful way for people who want to stay in their homes to be able to age in place with support. It’s also a great option for people who can’t afford assisted living residences.”
The daughter of a resident, who requested that her name not be used to protect her mother’s privacy, is thrilled. “The new assisted living program has impacted our lives in the most positive way,” she said. “It gives me the security of knowing that my mother is getting assistance with her daily needs, such as showering, medication, exercise, dressing, meal preparation and light housekeeping. My mother and I are so thankful to be a part of this program, and we are grateful to the wonderful staff members who inspire so much confidence.”
Mr. Colton-Max is pleased that JCHC is able to offer this new program. “It’s important to celebrate when we’re able to do more for those who did for us,” he said. “These are our parents, our grandparents, our mentors, our teachers, and this program allows us to help them by expanding the services we offer so that they can live a better life.”