The title above has become something of a mantra for us at NFESH in recent months because we realize how essential accomplishing that is– if this nation is serious about significantly reducing, and ultimately eliminating, senior hunger. What do we mean when we say “right seniors” and how do we determine that? Frankly, we believe that is easier than many suggest. Here is how we see it and what we mean.
But first we need to explain that when we say “the room” we are referring to the dining room in those congregate nutrition programs (CNPs) that operate under the provisions of the federal Older Americans Act (OAA). Now back to the question of “right seniors.” We imagine that many are saying, as they have for decades, that there are no “wrong” seniors, and that in fact, according to the OAA anyone age 60 and older is eligible to receive congregate meals. No argument here. Surely they are eligible. But we’d like to stress that there is a significant difference between being eligible and being entitled – and when resources are limited, as they are under discretionary programs like those authorized under the OAA – then some choices, and often difficult ones, need to be made.
Fortunately, the OAA gives some direction here as well. It has very explicit targeting language to help with those decisions. In fact, many more words are devoted to that than to the broad eligibility statement. And where the elderly nutrition programs (as they are referred to in the statute) are concerned, the Act also defines their specific purposes as primarily addressing “hunger and food insecurity.”
So now we have a question. Given those facts, coupled the reality that in 2015 nearly 10 million seniors in the United States were threatened by hunger, doesn’t it really make sense to focus more attention and energy on finding and serving those “right seniors?” To NFESH there is only one reasonable response to that question.
That’s a large part of the reason, by the way, that we have spent so many years commissioning and disseminating independent academic research findings on the issue of senior hunger. We do so not simply to measure the magnitude of the problem but also to look for answers. And the research points us to those as well. Right there in the risk factors. Knowing who is at risk helps define who are the “right seniors” for CNPs to have in their rooms.
And to help them assess their own successes we are developing new tools as part of REACH4Solutions that can show them these things. We call it a Target—a special, customized, CNP-specific target which depicts where their clients fall in relation to well-defined risk factors. Where they are succeeding, we applaud them. Where there is room for improvement we are here to help them sharpen their aim.
And we are awaiting the day when we can all say “Bull’s Eye!”