The NOSS provides one very viable answer for this industry concern. Even without a catchy acronym, it can add value and purpose in later life.

By Sue Ronnenkamp, MHA

Remind Me, What’s a NOSS?

In Part I, I wrote about an old and time-tested concept with a new acronym – the NOSS. Most of you know about the NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities). NOSS stands for Naturally Occurring Support Systems. It popped in my head when I read a recent Senior Housing Forum posting by Steve Moran, focused on the middle income problem.   

I believe the NOSS provides one very viable answer for this industry concern. Even without a catchy acronym, I’ve witnessed many ways that it can add value and purpose in later life. Here are several more examples of how the NOSS can work and provide benefits in economical and meaningful ways.  

It Can Happen Within a Marriage

Good news: men and husbands are living longer today and couples are celebrating anniversaries well into late life. Bad news: not everyone ages at the same rate or the same way. Here’s where “for better or worse” comes into a marriage in full force. And it’s where many a two-person NOSS has formed and exists today. Blessing from this: it’s enabling the half of the couple who hasn’t aged as well to keep living longer in a more independent and affordable setting. No small thing for quality of life and cost issues. This happened for my mom. She would’ve required higher level care far earlier, if it hadn’t been for my dad and their NOSS. I’ve seen this happen for lots of other couples too and it’s making a big difference.  

It Can Help With Health Issues And Costs

In my last senior living role, I came up with the idea of “Lean In to Live Well” groups for residents with chronic diseases (building on Sheryl Sandberg’s LEAN IN concept). A couple of energetic Wellness nurses took this idea and ran with it. They invited a select group of residents to be part of the first group (all frequent visitors to the Wellness Office). Initially the nurses taught them how to better manage their health. But this group quickly formed their own NOSS and started sharing advice and experience-earned expertise with each other.

Together they learned how to better handle the ups and downs of their conditions. They also quickly jumped in with added encouragement and comfort when one of their members was going through a challenging time. This NOSS resulted in both increased quality of life and cost savings – decreased visits to the Wellness Office (opening up time for other residents and duties) and reduced hospitalizations and crisis visits to the doctor.

It Can Be Created Virtually

Here’s one last example that’s one of the coolest ever. I’m a faithful follower of Jon Katz’s Bedlam Farm Journal, along with a multitude of others around the country. Last year he began making pet visits to a nearby Medicaid-funded senior community. He’s an avid photographer, so shared pictures and tales of the residents and his visits with Red, his beloved border collie.   

What happened and resulted from this has been pure magic. First, Jon suggested readers might send cards and messages to the residents. He thought maybe a few would answer this call. Before long, their local Postman was asking “Why am I suddenly delivering so much mail to this community?” And residents could be seen carrying around stacks of cards and letters, and reading and sharing them with their peers, their families, and the staff. Everyone involved was ecstatic about this very unexpected outpouring of good will.  

This Virtual NOSS Has Been a Powerful Change Agent

The letters and gifts provide ongoing support and encouragement. More importantly, this “Army of Good” (what Jon calls us) helped bring meaning back into the lives of these residents. One woman received yarn and patterns and is back to knitting and crocheting beautiful hats and sweaters for babies and toddlers. Others look totally different now, knowing and feeling that the outside world remembers and cares about them. Staff feel supported too. This can be a tough setting to work in, so boosting their spirits can only lead to good things on many levels.    

But there’s more. Early this year Jon learned that the community needed a new van and had only part of the money to buy one. So he organized a GoFundMe (a tool Jon has used for other good causes) and within one week this NOSS, along with many resident family members, contributed the $10,000 needed. The van will allow continued transportation for the necessary stuff, along with special outings for fun and adventure. Residents and staff are so excited.    

Of course, not every blog has a strong following like Jon’s. And not all blog followers would be open to becoming an “Army of Good.” But this does illustrate yet another way to create a powerful and impactful NOSS – one that can greatly enhance the lives of residents with limited resources and options.   

How Do We Foster the Growth of the NOSS?

Next time I’ll write about steps and shifts we can take/make to encourage and grow the NOSS in settings both inside and outside senior living communities. I truly believe this is one way we can serve and support the middle and lower income sectors, so more can benefit from our extended longevity. No, it won’t solve all the problems, but it’s already making a huge difference for many.