Ocean County has one of the highest senior populations in the state of New Jersey, and Toms River is in the heart of Ocean County. In the beginning phases of our NJHI: Building a Culture of Health in NJ – Communities Moving to Action grant, the Toms River Family Health and Support Coalition (TRFHSC) held listening sessions where we gathered data to find out the most serious health concerns in Toms River. We identified senior isolation as one of the biggest issues and from there, the Senior Isolation Subcommittee was born.
The Senior Isolation Team is led by Lynette Whiteman, Executive Director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, along with her Co-Chairs, Dr. Teri Kubiel, Assistant Vice President, Community Medical Center and Keri Britske, Community Outreach Manager, Community Medical Center.
Once the TRFHSC learned that senior isolation was a major issue, we took it further to find out what the most pressing concerns are for seniors. One of the biggest barriers to optimal health for our senior population is transportation. Toms River has many senior communities and currently, there is no network connecting them – whether it be communication or transportation. While solving the transportation issue with shared resources and buses is something we would like to see happen in the long-term, it is not feasible for the short-term.
The goal is to make seniors who are returning to Toms River for their retirement years feel “welcomed back” by creating a pathway for increased connections.
With the next most pressing barrier for seniors being loneliness and isolation, the Senior Isolation Team decided to launch their Senior Ambassador Training Program. The goals of the program are to make seniors who are returning to Toms River for their retirement years feel “welcomed back” into their community by creating a pathway for increased connections. It is the hope that seniors will collaborate and network with each other, sharing resources and advocating to community stakeholders. The long-term goal is to reduce senior isolation, enabling these individuals to live a healthier, more fulfilling life with increased participation in the community.
To get the program off the ground, the team started by identifying the senior communities in Toms River and reaching out to their leadership to see if they would be interested in being part of the Senior Ambassador pilot program in year one. The Senior Isolation Team then held a kickoff event, inviting the leaders from each senior community to attend dinner and a show. Several communities sent representatives and expressed interest in beginning an Ambassador Pilot.
After the kickoff and further discussion, it was decided that Holiday City West, Holiday City Carefree and Holiday City South would be the communities to pilot the Senior Ambassador program. They were enthusiastic and fully engaged. Earlier this year, the Senior Isolation team, along with consultant Duane Hershberger and Holiday City West, Holiday City Carefree and Holiday City South, had their first (and very successful) Senior Ambassador trainings, where residents from the chosen senior communities were coached on ways to reduce the isolation and loneliness many of their community residents face. These ambassadors will also get to know individuals outside their own communities, be integrated into the work of the full coalition, and serve to teach the team through this pilot program so that best practices and replication can follow.
The Senior Isolation Team is off to an incredible start toward reducing senior isolation in Toms River.