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Gusciora, Vainieri Huttle, Watson Coleman & Benson Bill Creating Pilot Program to Help Assist Aging Mercer County Residents Continues Advancing

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Dan Benson to create a pilot program that would provide social, health and mental care services for Mercer County communities with large elderly populations was recently released by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-204) would establish a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community,” or NORC, pilot program in the Division of Aging and Community Services in the Department of Health and Senior 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.

“Not everyone wants to move into senior housing or an assisted living facility. Many residents would rather stay in their homes, but need additional assistance to maintain their independence as they grow older,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This pilot program would allow these residents to stay in their homes and have the type of services they would benefit from in an assisted living facility delivered to them.”

“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,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “NORCs allow these residents to receive needed services without having to move from the only community they have known. This is a fitting way to serve an aging population that continues to grow.”

“NORCs provide services meant to keep elderly residents healthy and socially active without having to relocate to senior housing. 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,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).

“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 (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “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.”

Under the provisions of the bill, the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services would 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 Mercer County, or within a selected defined community in Mercer County in which at least 50 percent of the households are headed by a person who is 60 years of age or older.

The lead agency would administer the overall fiscal, managerial and programmatic responsibilities of the pilot program and recruit and coordinate the services of program partners.

The pilot program would 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 requires the lead agency to periodically report to the commissioner on the establishment of the pilot program and its impact on the well-being of the residents. The commissioner would report to the governor and the Legislature on the pilot program within two years of its implementation and make any recommendations to expand the program to other counties in the state.

The bill provides a $250,000 appropriation from the General Fund to the department to award a grant under the bill.

The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.