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The Senior Switch: Services Move to Department of Health

Switch-up at the Department of Human Services makes it easier on NJ seniors.

Services for New Jersey seniors have moved, and no one seems to have noticed -- which is a good thing. Recent legislation transferred the state's programs for seniors from the Department of Health and Senior Services to the Department of Human Services. The change took effect July 1.

"We are now the Department of Health," said Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the department.

Two divisions under the umbrella of health moved: aging and community services, which coordinates community-based programs for senior citizens, and senior benefits and utilization management, which oversees two prescription drug assistance programs.

The Office of Public Guardian was also relocated. It acts on behalf of those 60 and older and deemed incapacitated by the courts and expects to handle about 4,700 cases this year.

Nicole Brossoie, a DHS spokeswoman, said the transfer was smooth because there were no programmatic changes and no staff layoffs. It was simply a switch from one department to the other. The staff of 355 is now assigned to the Division of Aging Services in DHS, but continues to work out of the state's Quakerbridge Plaza office. "What made it an efficient transfer was that no services were dropped," she said.

Douglas Johnston, governmental affairs manager of the AARP of New Jersey, said the organization backed the change and so far none of its members appear to have been affected negatively.

"There are almost always troubles in transitions, but we've not received any complaints from our 1.3 million members in New Jersey," he said. "We are not aware of any 'cutbacks in services' stemming from this move. It definitely makes sense to AARP." The new Division of Aging Services has a budget of $2.2 billion in combined federal and state dollars. Much of that funds several popular programs:

  • Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled or PAAD and Senior Gold Prescription Discount, which provide low-cost or discounted prescriptions to about 165,000 needy seniors;

  • Lifeline utility assistance, which gives a $225 electric and gas credit for low-income seniors;

  • Hearing Aid Assistance to the Aged and Disabled, which provides eligible seniors with $100 toward the purchase of a hearing aid.

The other office administers programs meant to help seniors who want to continue to live at home. For instance, the Aging and Disability Resource Connection provides help with accessing such local programs as meals-on-wheels, housekeeping, and transportation that could mean the difference between an elderly person being able to stay in his or her own home and having to move into an assisted living facility or nursing home.

From the standpoint of AARP, these are critically important services. "We believe this change will accelerate the transition from institutional long-term care services to home and community-based services which older people want and need," Johnston said.

Leusner said the DOH will continue to oversee, inspect and investigate nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The transfer also made sense, according to DHS officials, because it makes it easier for all seniors to find help from the same state office, rather than having some programs located within human services and others in the health department.

While the switch has been virtually seamless, it took a lot of paper to get there. The legislation, which passed relatively quickly by unanimous votes in both houses in June, totaled about 370 pages.

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