Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Brooklyn city officials decry cutbacks to program for senior citizens with physical or mental impairments

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

City Council members are decrying cutbacks to Social Adult Day Care (SADC) programs throughout Brooklyn and the city as a whole.

The City Council Committee on Aging; the Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services; and the Subcommittee on Senior Centers met jointly on Thursday to hear testimony regarding the funding and future of these programs. SADC serves senior citizens with physical or mental impairments, many with Alzheimer’s, who require close supervision and therapeutic activities.

Caryn Resnick, deputy commissioner for external affairs at the NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA), stated that the city has no funding for SADC services at this time, and that the DFTA has instead prioritized funding to “core services” like senior centers, home-delivered meals and case management.

But senior centers citywide have also suffered from reduced funding, and many center directors and City Council members are concerned.

Bronx Councilman G. Oliver Koppell (D-Kingsbridge/Riverdale), chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services, said at the hearing, “I was very distressed by the cut-off of these [SADC] funds.” He vowed to “make [supporting restoration] a priority in the upcoming budget negotiations.”

Koppell’s office remains concerned about what funding cuts have meant to regular senior centers as well, according to counsel Jamin Sewell. The DFTA has, for example, already reduced funding to mitigate rent increases for the centers. “We’re concerned especially from what we’re hearing of the state budget,” said Sewell.

Senior center directors say that they and their staff are frequently the ones to first notice mental and physical changes in their clients. This is particularly so with clients who have been coming to the same center for years and those who live alone.

“They watch each other,” said Assistant Director Elena Spurrell of the Park Slope Senior Citizen Center. “If they notice someone missing, they will ask administration to check [on their well-being].”

“Without a doubt, senior centers are an important link between their members, resources and the community at large,” said Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), a member of the Committee on Aging.

The Park Slope Senior Citizen Center is funded, like similar centers citywide, by the DFTA. Its $270K allocation from the DFTA this fiscal year is designated for rent, insurance, staff salaries and supplies for the lunch program.

Funding for other programs, such as art, computers and physical fitness is left to the center’s fundraising abilities or financed by grants from the discretionary funds of the offices of the borough president, district City Council members and state senators. These funds were cut this year.

Spurrell explained that her Park Slope seniors come for socialization and the opportunity to be physically and mentally active: “While meals are important, the crowd comes in for the programs.” The morning exercise classes — the Bodies in Motion class being a favorite — bring in about 30 to 40 members who then stay for lunch, she said.

She worries that decreased funding will necessitate further cuts to the programs. The popular creative writing and oil painting classes were recent such casualties.

The monthly birthday party is also popular and a huge draw for members who gather to celebrate. Among the feted on Friday was Nazli Hegazy, 72. She has osteoporosis and comes for the exercise classes. “The center is an outlet for me, otherwise I don’t know where I’d exercise,” she said.

She explained that commercial exercise classes are expensive for persons living on fixed incomes, such as herself and her retired husband.

Administrative Assistant Ever Jean Ellerbe serves as a social aide at the center and provides case assistance to members. She explained that staffers routinely help seniors with assorted matters such as applying for government benefits like food stamps and Social Security, as well as problems with landlords, and lost MetroCards.

Another birthday honoree, Mary Delutri, 80, confirmed, “If you have a problem, they would help you.” Delutri, a Park Slope resident, has been singing in the chorus at the center for many years. She walks there no matter the weather, and calls the center “someplace to go.”

Frank J. Rinato, 78, has been coming to the center for 18 years. An Army veteran and retired AT&T inspector, Rinato says of the budget cuts, “There’s a lot of talent that will get lost if they cut.” He participated for years in the center’s creative writing program, and enjoyed learning how to record his memoirs.

Gentile said, “When half the senior centers in the city are threatened with closure, a lot of people’s actual lifelines are threatened. Those centers keep an entire demographic engaged and cared for; without them, we’re giving up on that entire population.”