Supportive Services Programs in Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. What Factors Affect Resident Participation in NORC Services Programs?

Factors that could affect whether or how residents use NORC services programs include desirability of the services, resident knowledge of service availability, the price of the services to the resident, and location of the services. The desirability of services has been discussed in the two previous sections. Residents' knowledge about services is primarily a function of program communication with residents. We found no information about how the price of services affects resident participation. Two studies provide some insights regarding communication about and location of services.

In addition to these program characteristics, residents' demographic characteristics were seen to affect participation rates. Landsberg et al. report that users of supportive services in four NORCs in New York were more likely than non-users to be female, older than 85, and living alone compared to all older residents in the four surveyed NORCs.43

An evaluation of a services program in a New York NORC indicates that recruiting advisory committee and staff members from varied backgrounds facilitates reaching out to and working with minority populations in a NORC.44 The evaluation found that successful outreach efforts are varied, multilingual, and tailored to the cultural preferences of residents. Most clients who entered the program during the two-year demonstration had heard about it through the senior center or from a program flyer.

Physical accessibility affected participation in the Vladeck Cares program, a program designed for seniors living in Vladeck Houses, a large public housing complex in New York City. Analysis of client residence data showed that the closer residents' apartments were to the program office, the higher the residents' participation in programs. Participation rates also declined as resident age increased.45 An evaluation of the HUD SCP also cited accessibility as an important factor. The evaluators found that stairs represented a barrier to residents' access to services. They recommended that sites be accessible to older residents and located near where residents tend to congregate, such as mailboxes, dining rooms, or lounges.46

According to the literature, communication, location, and accessibility of offices and meeting space, and resident age are likely to affect the level of resident use of programs. The experts we spoke to concurred with these findings. In addition, several experts mentioned the role of volunteers, either resident volunteers or outside volunteers, as an important program feature. A well-developed volunteer program may help engage NORC residents in the planning and operation of program activities. Some NORCs have used volunteers from outside organizations, including college and high school students, adding an intergenerational component to services programs that residents find appealing.

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