PHI Partners with New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well to Improve Direct Care Jobs
In March, PHI announced our partnership with New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well to co-lead a multi-year policy advocacy effort focused on advancing job quality for the state’s 101,000 direct care workers. This partnership is part of PHI’s Essential Jobs, Essential Care™ state-based advocacy initiative, which also includes Michigan, New Mexico, New York, and North Carolina. In each of these states, Essential Jobs, Essential Care is shaped around three main policy goals: improving compensation for direct care workers, driving workforce innovations (such as training and advanced roles), and strengthening workforce data collection.
PHI’s State Policy Advocacy Specialist, Hannah Diamond, spoke to Dr. Cathy Rowe, the Executive Director of New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, about how this initiative will impact New Jersey’s direct care workers and the essential services they provide for older adults and people with disabilities.
Hannah Diamond: Tell us about New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well (NJAAW).
Cathy Rowe: NJAAW provides leadership in public policy and education to enable New Jersey’s older adults to live with independence and dignity in their communities. We were formed as the New Jersey Foundation for Aging in 1998 by a group of Executive Directors of County Offices on Aging who saw a need for a statewide organization to focus on issues impacting older adults. In early 2020, we changed our name to New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well to reflect our current work more accurately.
HD: You are coming up on your first anniversary as the Executive Director of NJAAW. What drew you to this position—and what are your hopes for the organization’s future?
CR: I can’t believe it has been almost a year already. My background is in public health, and I entered the field of age-friendly work in 2017. I see aging well as the result of comprehensive advances in public health. I had attended conferences and webinars produced by NJAAW, so I knew the organization and respected its work. Going forward, I plan to continue our advocacy on behalf of older adults, build and strengthen our partnerships with stakeholders, and engage in new opportunities to help New Jerseyans age well.
HD: Can you share some of NJAAW’s recent achievements?
CR: Our most significant achievement this year has been the NJAAW Housing Series, in which we’ve looked at housing as a continuum of changing needs and options. With more than 350 people attending the four events in this series, we have seen that demand for this information is high. We plan to continue to do a deep dive into issues like this going forward. New Jerseyans are smart—they want to know their options and find answers.
We also partnered with Senior Medicare Patrol and New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Financing Agency’s Services for Independent Living program to bring basic technology instruction to 50 senior apartment buildings throughout the state. It hasn’t been easy—we all know that we need to increase tech literacy among older adults and close the “digital divide.” I want to be clear that older people are not averse to technology—this is the generation that put a man on the moon and a TV in every household.
HD: What are some of the challenges facing direct care workers in New Jersey?
CR: We saw a decline in the direct care workforce before COVID—it is a hard job, and New Jersey is an expensive place to live. When COVID began, New Jersey was hit very hard. The pandemic exacerbated existing strains on the direct care workforce. It is not a job you can do remotely or have the luxury of picking the time and place that works best for you and your family. With the necessary increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey and the shortage of workers all around, people can work in retail or other jobs that are easier and require no training or certification. We are competing for workers.
HD: Why are you excited about partnering with PHI to launch Essential Jobs, Essential Care in New Jersey?
CR: I like to be prepared. As I said, we are losing workers as the demographics are shifting. By 2030, New Jersey will have more older adults than kids in schools. Not only will we have more older residents, but they will be “older” for longer than ever before. We need to be prepared for the needs of older adults. The time to act is NOW, instead of playing catch-up a few years from now.
HD: What is one policy opportunity you anticipate in the next few months?
CR: I think we will have the opportunity to take some of the lessons learned from COVID and translate them into permanent policy and program reforms. As one example, I think it is important to streamline access to services and to educate people about the programs and services available to them. If we learned one lesson from COVID, it’s that everyone needs help at some point.
HD: Let’s wrap up on a lighter note. What do you love most about New Jersey?
CR: Well, I believe living in New Jersey gives one a sense of humor. I love the contrasts: we are a diverse, densely populated state—there are a lot of us with a lot of different backgrounds and opinions. I am up in Essex County and can see the Empire State Building from the top of my street, I have a 2,000-acre reservation to escape to within walking distance, and I can get to the beach in under an hour (depending on traffic, of course). I mean, we really have everything—the shore, mountains, farmlands, state-of-the-art new buildings, and some of the oldest towns in the US. It’s all here.
Read PHI’s 2020 report on New Jersey’s direct care workforce here.