Every Jewish community wants more Raymonde Fiols among its active retirees. The question is whether those communities are prepared to meet the needs she and hundreds of thousands of “younger seniors” — and older ones — will have in the near future.
Now 76, Fiols has lived in Las Vegas for the past 11 years. She belongs to a synagogue, Hadassah and Na’amat USA, a women’s Zionist organization. Her volunteer time largely is spent as president of the Holocaust Survivors Group of Southern Nevada. In their spare time, she and her husband of 56 years, Philip, enjoy the area’s nature parks and attend lectures.
“You have a choice of Jewish involvement, and we’re surrounded by Jewish friends,” Fiols said. “People look out for each other because a lot of them don’t have their children here, so you get invited for yontif (holidays) and your friends become family,” she said.
She and her husband are part of the area’s growing senior population. The Jewish community is thought to have a larger share of people ages 65 and over than the general U.S. population, based on statistics from the most recent National Jewish Population Study and the 2010 U.S. Census.
Experts say Jewish institutions will have to work hard to keep up with what is expected to be a growing need for social services and social offerings among Jewish elderly.
Already, Jewish programs ranging from medical assistance initiatives to psychological counseling, adult education and heritage trips are expanding.
With its high concentration of older Jews, Las Vegas — like Phoenix, Ariz. and Palm Beach County, Fla. — offers an instructive example of how a community is grappling with the challenges of growing Jewish senior populations.
In 2005, the year of Las Vegas’ last Jewish community study, the number of Jews ages 65 and older rose to 67,500, from 55,600 a decade earlier.
To meet the need, expansions are taking place at Jewish retirement homes and centers around the country.
Service providers also worry about meeting the needs of elderly people who chose to stay at home, many of them in what’s known as NORCs: naturally occurring retirement communities. In 2001, the national federation umbrella organization — now known as the Jewish Federations of North America — created a NORC Aging in Place Initiative to seek more federal assistance for NORC supportive services efforts, which often are supported with federal and state funds.
At Las Vegas Senior Lifeline, a nondenominational program run by the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, federation spending on the program’s kosher meals, transportation to doctors and grocery stores, and light housekeeping has risen to $500,000 — a substantial increase in the past four years, according to Elliot Karp, president and CEO of the Las Vegas federation. The program also gets government dollars.
“No question that’s going to increase in the coming years,” Karp said of the need. “The number is stable at around 400 people served only because of limitation of resources. We could double it if we had the funds.”
Beyond social-service needs, with more active, healthy retirees comes increased demand for educational and social programming.
At the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of Jewish Learning, which is geared toward all adults, organizers say they’ve seen a significant increase in seniors. In many venues, the majority of participants are retirees. In recent years, that program (which has a presence in the Bay Area) has expanded to 62 programs in 60 cities, mostly in North America, educating some 5,500 people a week.
Many worry that Jewish communities remain unprepared to help the baby boomer generation with medical needs as well.
Karp said that in Las Vegas, which is now talking about building its first Jewish retirement home, the dual challenge is clear. “We know that in our community the senior adult population is significant and will continue to grow. We know we have to do a better job of providing better services both for the needy elderly and the ‘well elderly.’ ”
For baby boomers, however, the bottom line in choosing a retirement destination may be an array of quality-of-life considerations, of which senior services is just one.
“Even though you have the big developments and the clubhouses, there’s so much out here,” Fiols said of Las Vegas. “You have choices and I’m not talking about gambling. Come on out and you’ll have a grand time.”