Gusciora, Vainieri Huttle & Benson Bill to Create Pilot Program to Help Aging Mercer County Residents Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora (Mercer/Hunterdon), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) to create a pilot program that would provide social, health and mental care services for Mercer County communities with large elderly populations was approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-2043) would establish a "Naturally Occurring Retirement Community" or NORC pilot program in the Division of Aging Services in the Department of Human Services. 

Unlike housing built specifically for elderly residents, a NORC is a residential area with a high concentration of elderly residents who are aging in place in their communities. 

"Having to uproot because your healthcare needs can no longer be met at home can be devastating for many older residents. NORCs provide services that help keep elderly residents healthy and socially active without having to relocate to senior housing," said Gusciora. "If this pilot program can help our older residents lead healthy and productive lives in their own homes, then it is worth trying. Growing older does not have to be an impediment to healthy, independent living."

"Many older residents would rather stay in their homes, but need additional assistance to maintain their independence. NORCs allow these residents to receive needed services without having to move from the only community they have known," said Vainieri Huttle. "Given the benefits, this is worth looking into. Our health care needs change as we grow older, but that should not determine where we spend our remaining years, especially if those needs can be met at home."

"Many families struggle with how to best care for an aging parent, and may reluctantly consider senior housing where they believe the needs of their parents will be best met," said Benson. "NORCs provide these families with another option, by providing services that can help our seniors stay healthy so they can maintain their independence and remain in their homes."

The bill requires the Commissioner of Human Services to provide a grant to a lead agency to establish and coordinate a NORC at a senior center in Mercer County, or one or more moderate or low-income apartment buildings or housing complexes in the county, or within a defined geographic area in the county where at least 50 percent of the households are headed by a person who is 60 years of age or older.

The bill would require applicants that want to become a lead agency to have demonstrated experience and expertise in providing services to populations who are "aging in place" and in administering related initiatives in the community. Under the bill, the entity selected as the lead agency may be a non-profit or for-profit organization, and may provide services to elderly residents directly or in collaboration with other experienced providers.
Under the bill, the pilot program would have to provide:

  • social services, including, but not limited to, on-site assessments, information and referral services, case management, counseling, recreation and socialization programs, management of volunteer programs, support groups, and education programs that help elderly residents preserve their health;
    • health care services, including, but not limited to, on-site nursing and physician services, health screenings and monitoring, and medication management;
      • mental health services, including, but not limited to, a consulting psychiatrist to assess, diagnose, and treat residents and educate other professional staff, patients, caregivers, and families to detect and assess mental health needs, and mental health screening by a social worker or registered professional nurse; and
        • support services, including, but not limited to, transportation services and assistance with shopping and financial management.
        The bill would require the lead agency to periodically report to the commissioner on the establishment of the pilot program and its impact on the well-being of residents, and, in making its report, to employ a formal outcomes measurement tool to assess the impact of the program on older adults' health and well-being, as well as the potential cost savings of these outcomes for long-term care, health, and human services delivery systems. The bill would allow the lead agency to allocate up to 7.5 percent of grant funds for the costs of evaluation, to include software, consulting services, and staff time to analyze outcomes and evaluate the program.

        The bill would also require the commissioner to report to the governor and the Legislature on the pilot program within two years of its implementation, and to make any recommendations that the commissioner deems appropriate to expand the program to other counties in the state.<
        br> The bill would appropriate $250,000 from the General Fund to the department to provide a grant to the lead agency that is selected to implement the pilot program.

        The bill would take effect immediately and provides for the pilot program to expire upon the submission of the commissioner's final report to the Governor and the Legislature.

        The bill was released by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.