Montclair Gateway to Aging In Place (Montclair Gateway)
Summary: In the 21st Century, “the internet is infrastructure.” Nothing has brought this truth home more dramatically than the COVID pandemic. It has annulled the communications tradition of face-to-face contact and imposed a regimen of isolation replacing congregation. No group of our community members have been more impacted than our senior citizens, especially those without access to, or skills in, digital communications devices. Therefore, we must focus our first efforts on achieving technological parity among our older citizens to provide the connectivity necessary to access essential services and information as they age in place – exactly the services and information Montclair Gateway is designed to provide.
This document describes a proposed virtual care coordination system providing a broad range of services to the Montclair area older citizens. This proposed program will be in phases: 1) addressing the digital disparity between older citizens and their neighbors; 2) scaling up an existing on-line virtual platform to offset the absence of a Montclair bricks and mortar senior center and thereby bridge the existing gap in services and reach; and 3) seeking regional partners to expand the model. The Montclair Gateway will exponentially increase outreach by adding a broad range of services through an internet interface geared to: enhance the elderly’s health, food security, mobility, social engagement, and access to local, county, state and federal support programs. Upon evaluation, this program will be made available throughout suburban Essex County.
Background: By 2030, one out of five people in our County will be over the age of 65. A great deal of money must be allocated in order to create the safety net necessary to support all of the people who will age in place. The Lifelong Montclair program for aging in place and parent organization of the Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning (M.I.L.L.) has become a model for other Townships, and we are witnessing a proliferation of Lifelong Township projects all over the State. However, the current Lifelong Montclair was based upon a bricks and mortar model. With COVID 19 as backdrop, the County is faced with escalating challenges in providing support to our older citizens, especially to overcome equity issues that have emerged, e.g., social isolation due to pockets of technological wasteland. The impacts of COVID are not going to disappear quickly; any infrastructure that is built to service our older citizens now and going forward should be built with the awareness we have gained regarding the ravages of the pandemic while also leveraging the latest emerging supportive communication technologies. So, when the oldest residents in our community become frailer, we are ready. What we now need is a virtual infrastructure to support them and their caregivers.
In spite of the fact that suburban Essex County is considered affluent, the future for its older residents is fraught with financial challenges. Based upon recent livability indices, 35% of the senior households in Montclair can not afford their housing, transportation, food and health care on a regular basis. We must erect an infrastructure that has no physical or technological boundaries, one built to support and provide service to all of our older citizens – the 35% who are struggling as well as the 65% who are not in crisis mode but whose need for “elderfare” will only increase. We need to partner with existing technical providers to make sure that all of our older citizens are internet-ready in their homes. Furthermore, a virtual community focused on the needs of our older citizens can bring existing resources into play quickly and build new coalitions that heretofore were bounded by geographic limitations. Ultimately, each community invested in this virtual infrastructure will experience economies of scale, e.g., containment of expenses to support this growing population.
1. The Goal
a. To develop and administer a virtual platform under the name The Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place (Montclair Gateway) designed to provide customized programs and services (e.g., Enrichment Classes, Retirement Planning, Debt Restructuring and Relief, Case Management, Tele-Health, Wellness Calls, Centralized Regional Transportation Dispatch, 24/7 Emergency Support, Caregiver Support, Elder Care, et. al.) across suburban Essex. The Montclair GAP will empower and support individuals who choose to age in place in Montclair and its neighboring communities.
b. To identify those under-served people who are in need of technological connectivity and bring services to them.
c. To expand the reach of our efforts to bring equity to the playing field so that heretofore under-served older residents and their caregivers in our extended community:
- Know what is available in a timely way
- Know how to access what they need
- Be appropriately informed and not be confused by competing narratives.
d. To build a one-stop virtual portal with a coalition of cooperating community partners (e.g. United Way, NAACP, AIM, etc.) in order to achieve economies of scale, i.e., create efficiencies and eliminate redundancies in programmatic and supportive services and streamlined reporting – not achieved by our current decentralized system. Going forward, a virtual platform will reduce costs for both municipal and private players who come together to share responsibility for the health and welfare of our older citizens by sharing “last mile delivery” logistics and expense.
e. To use this virtual platform to test and perfect existing technological support systems for older citizens such that:
- End-user usage barriers are removed
- End-users remain as self-sufficient and engaged as possible.
f. To provide a testbed for research into emerging technologies which will create the next generation support systems for older citizens whose residences are shifting from institutionalized living to aging in place in the community.
2. The Urgency
a. The COVID pandemic has amply demonstrated the health risks associated with institutionalized living. A society which values its older citizens has to be prepared to support aging in the community.
b. Announced in March, 2020, the US Office on Aging legislation is prepared to reallocate Medicaid funding from institutionalized living to community-based support systems. We want to be in a position to pursue those funds.
c. An exponential increase in the number of retirees presents an opportunity to leverage opportunities for planned giving. A non-profit 501 (c) (3) must be in place to begin to cultivate this source of monetary support.
3. The Investment.
a. Because of COVID, all of the municipalities in suburban Essex are experiencing fiscal challenges. For example, the Township of Montclair is projecting substantial reductions in tax revenue while experiencing expenditure increases in COVID-related protective equipment and associated infrastructure upgrade. 2019/2020 parity studies have demonstrated that other regional Townships are expending an average of .82% of their annual budget on senior services and Montclair, in comparison, is allocating .5% of its $92 million budget on senior services. Montclair is not likely to be able to achieve fiscal parity with its neighbors regarding senior services expenditures any time soon – and this while a clear uptick in service needs is manifest.
b. The immediate need for an increase in funding for programming/services of our older citizens is occurring at the same time our County’s municipalities are seeing reduction in revenue. We must now seek to consolidate into a regional program to share expenses and leverage private donations while we grow the required infrastructure to support our communities.
c. Under this approach, the non-profit Montclair Gateway will start as a pilot project with foundation and private support. As the project matures, it is expected that municipalities that join the coalition will provide an income stream in return for services that will be outsourced to the Montclair Gateway.
Development of a platform for the Montclair Gateway Virtual Senior Center will be pursued in tandem with the Gateway device distribution plan as funding permits.