WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange senior survey closed at the end of October, and the results were finally revealed at the March 27 Township Council meeting by the town’s health department and representatives from the researchers at Montclair State University. The survey, which was paid for by a grant, was conducted and compiled by the Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services, an independent research and assessment center at MSU. The 89-question survey aimed to find out what West Orange residents aged 55 and older feel about the senior services in the town and how they can be improved.
“We worked in close partnership with the township of West Orange to talk about what are the key things we need to be asking, what do we want to know at the end of this,” Erin Bunger Johnson, a senior research associate at CREEHS, said at the meeting. According to Johnson, there were six key areas the survey focused on: community services and resources, transportation, housing, health, communication and overall satisfaction.
Senior citizens could take the survey online or on paper between August and October 2017. The town’s goal was to reach 375 people, and the final results showed that they doubled that, with 753 people taking the survey.
“We had a large sample size, which means we have a little more confidence in the data that we’ve collected,” Johnson said. According to the data, 80 percent of the respondents were white, 66 percent were female, 55 percent have lived in West Orange for 25 years or longer, 36 percent have a graduate degree and 15 percent have a household income of $100,000 to $149,000 a year.
“Some of this data may not be representative of all age groups and all subgroups of older residents in West Orange,” Johnson said. “So what we know is that we have some underrepresented data from those in younger age groups, and we know that we had some underrepresentation for respondents who identify as black or Hispanic, despite the targeted recruitment efforts.”
Under the community service and resources umbrella, Johnson said that the survey indicated that seniors were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with the programs that West Orange offers.
“We don’t have a huge amount that are super satisfied, but we don’t have a lot that are super dissatisfied,” Johnson said. “What we learned by and large is that there’s a lack of awareness about existing resources and services for residents age 55 and older. People are interested in participating in the services but they don’t know they are available.”
The survey revealed that 41 percent of the senior population feels that their voice in the community is not heard, and Johnson said some of that speaks to the issue with promotion — not all of the information is reaching its target audience.
Eighty percent of the survey respondents said they drive regularly, and that it is easy to get around West Orange. They did have safety concerns, however.
“Respondents had safety concerns, predominantly around pedestrian safety,” Johnson said. “About half of our respondents said they felt unsafe with the sidewalks, sometimes because they were nonexistent, and other times because they are uneven or there are cracks. We also heard from about half who said they felt unsafe crossing the street because of the way the intersections and the crosswalks are.”
Taxes were a common theme that came up in the results of the survey under the topic of housing.
“Ninety percent of respondents said that high taxes were a moderate or major problem,” Johnson said. “Similarly, our respondents indicated that they felt there are limited options for affordable housing.” Still, two-thirds of the seniors who took the survey said they wish to stay in their homes in West Orange for at least the next 10 years.
According to Johnson, most seniors in West Orange are in good health and are physically active. There is, however, a small population that feels food insecure.
“What that means is that people were unsure whether they had enough money to pay for their next meal and they were unsure that they would know where to get that next meal from,” she said. “This was about 10 to 20 percent, depending on how they looked at food insecurity, but it’s an important thing to know.”
According to the survey results, seniors feel communication is the top area in need of improvement in the township. While 90 percent said they use the internet and email regularly, half of the respondents said that they felt uninformed about what is going on in West Orange. One suggestion was for a central place that seniors can find information about programs and services specifically for them.
Overall, Johnson said that 40 percent of the seniors who took the survey said that West Orange is a good or excellent place to live as they grow older. The most important categories to those who took the survey were health, communication and housing.
“What we found was that many weren’t satisfied or dissatisfied,” Johnson said. “It varies within age range, and in these groups not all who are 55 or older consider themselves senior citizens.”
West Orange health officer Theresa De Nova said the data from the survey will be used to improve all departments within the township, to better serve senior citizens.
“For us the needs assessment is for us to (use) as a planning tool,” she said at the meeting. “In looking at some of the results of the survey, we felt that we really need to have that one localized point of info for our older adults.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic