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The Jewish Community: Ahead of the Curve?

When 85-year-old Teddi Schwartz, a retired folksinger, moved into the 2,800-unit Penn South apartment complex in 1962, the New York City resident had no idea that, 25 years later, the Manhattan development would make history.

“Penn South residents are not poor, but by the early 1980s the buildings’ Board of Directors came to UJA for help because the units were filled with elderly Jews who needed assistance,” says Anita Altman, deputy managing director of the Caring Commission of UJA-Federation. When research revealed that half the residents were over 60, those responsible for the study dubbed Penn South a NORC, or Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. Since then, surveys have identified at least 5,000 potential NORCs across the country.

By 1986, says Altman, the Jewish Home and Hospital, Selfhelp Community Services and the Educational Alliance West had created a model program for Penn South residents that has been replicated nationwide. “An on-site staff provides information and referrals, entitlement counseling, case management and community nursing,” says Altman. “We provide non-Medicare-reimbursable services such as the pouring of medication or translating between what the doctor tells a patient and what he or she understands. We monitor meds, take blood pressure and link folks to community-based services such as home care or Meals on Wheels. We also run an adult day care program for people with dementia. And it is all done within Penn South.” While there are fees for some services, most cost residents nothing.

“We know that 89 percent of seniors live in their own homes,” Altman adds. “Furthermore, we know that when services are provided where people live and are geared to their specific needs, they’ve got a formal support system that enables them to live meaningful lives for as long as possible.”

Teddi Schwartz misses no opportunity to sing the praises of Penn South’s Senior Center. “The staff really take an interest in the residents,” she says. “I pay a $20 annual membership fee for access to social services, lectures, classes and special events. It’s fantastic. They do everything possible to keep people in their homes. That means the world to me.”