Study: Seniors prefer to age in place

The main message from this year’s senior services study initiated by the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix is that seniors want to “age in place,” meaning that they want to live independently in their own homes.

Therefore, the Senior Services Task Force – formed for the purpose of evaluating the study – based its recommendations on this finding, said Dick Gottlieb, who chaired the task force.

The three recommendations the task force made to the federation board at an October meeting were:

1. To develop a service that provides information about existing services and how to obtain these services;

2. To address transportation issues for seniors; and

3. To recognize socialization needs for seniors, especially those who have limited transportation options or are homebound.

Going into the study, the task force anticipated that the outcome would indicate a strong desire for a “brick and mortar” building for seniors, such as a nursing home or extended care facility, said Gottlieb. However, the responses from the study, focus groups and online survey was “that nobody was interested in that. Seniors in this community clearly wish to age in place.”

Another unanticipated finding was also the large amount of services that are currently available to seniors.

“But the key to that … is communication,” Gottlieb said, describing the task force’s first recommendation.

“It’s not just important to have a listing,” said Don Schon, the former chair of the Association’s Community Planning Commission who served as the board’s liaison to the task force. “It has to be an active, dynamic database.”

The task force suggested that a compendium of existing services and how to obtain them be developed, including details about restrictions, qualifications and limitations of services provided.

The task force also recommended that an individual be hired to maintain the database and refer people to existing services available, but did not make a recommendation on a specific agency to oversee this.

Stuart Wachs, president and CEO of the Association, said he “wasn’t surprised to see socialization and transportation high on the list, but I had no idea the breadth of resources out there and how unknown they were.”

As far as transportation, the study found that existing transportation resources “were cumbersome for seniors, inadequate and difficult to use and sometimes expensive,” and that there was very little cooperation between municipalities. The task force recommended that a solution to this problem be studied, formulated and implemented.

Regarding socialization, the task force reported that “an effort needs to be made to augment the availability of existing services for seniors and, where necessary, expand them as needed, emphasizing Jewish social, cultural and religious activities.”

So what’s the next step?

Last week, the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix sent out 2015 program grant applications to local Jewish organizations, according to Lisa Kaplan, federation director of planning and organization relations.

The forms list Israel Advocacy, Now Generation and Senior Services as the federation’s funding priorities and the organizations are encouraged to apply for funding in these three areas by Jan. 16, 2015. (Contact Kaplan for more information, lkaplan@jewishphoenix.org.)

Funding decisions, utilizing funds from the 2014 Campaign for Jewish Needs, will be made by mid-spring 2015, Wachs said.

Although plans are not finalized for what happens after that initial allocation is made, Wachs said that either one task force or three separate ones – each would focus on one of the three task force recommendations – will be formed to evaluate whether the services are something that could be created internally or if there is an existing agency that can address the need.

“I see the federation’s responsibility as helping to educate and enlighten the community both about the needs and the opportunities,” Wachs said, and “to help, both through our own resources and in collaboration … find the most effective ways of addressing them.”

The key roles the community can play will be in helping to fund, volunteer, provide input and participate, Wachs said. “Ultimately this is all for the community [and] it takes the community utilizing it to make it all work. We see the federation as a catalyst and a convener.”

Background on the study

In 2012, the Association’s board of directors allocated $25,000 to study the growing population of Jewish seniors in the Greater Phoenix area. In early 2013, the Association hired a consultant, Janice Friebaum, who conducted interviews with service providers, service professionals, rabbis and other relevant agencies; led focus groups; and conducted an online survey to which more than 1,100 seniors, family members and members of the general population responded.

Gottlieb was asked to chair the task force  –  made up of a variety of lay leaders and professionals, both Jewish and non-Jewish –  to evaluate the study and recommend action plans to the board of directors.

For the purposes of this study, “senior” is defined as someone 65 years or older.

The main goals of the study, according to the report, were to better understand the current demographics and population trends of the local senior population; assess the range of local services available to Jewish seniors; identify the services that are most needed; and develop recommended actions to address the unmet needs of local Jewish seniors.

The result was summarized in a report totaling more than 200 pages that will eventually be available on the federation website,jewishphoenix.org, according to Kaplan.

This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

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