En español | Hyacinth Eckhardt has lived in her cozy house in Lopatcong Township for 60 of her 90 years. Over time, much has changed — she's widowed and needs a walker. But home is still home, thanks to a state program that provides services to help people remain in their homes when they need help with simple tasks like bathing and cooking, rather than move to a nursing home.
Even New Jersey's top health official has acknowledged the effort has fallen short of its goal. "Other states, such as Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, currently spend more than half their long-term care dollars on community care," Department of Health and Senior Services Commissioner Poonam Alaigh wrote last year. "While New Jersey has made some progress, I am fully aware that much work lies before us."
Assistant Commissioner Patricia Polansky promised that six more counties will have referral centers by July 1, with the remainder to open by Jan. 1, 2012. She called the reform a "huge, heavy lift."
"We're changing the philosophy and approach of the aging services network and the infrastructure," she said.
Nursing homes will always serve some physically or cognitively disabled adults, she said. But others with fewer needs can remain at home when given a care manager to arrange services such as day care, visiting nurses and personal assistants. Medicaid also pays for home modifications, such as ramps, railings and grab bars.
Hyacinth Eckhardt has help from family and vigilant neighbors. Transportation to doctors and management of medicines are provided by her son. But it's the added support that allows her to stay put: homemaker services, Meals on Wheels, minor home modifications and a personal emergency response system.
"We let her handle as much of her own affairs as she can," he said.
Mary Jo Patterson is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.