Gotbaum Calls For Back-Up Generators in Senior Centers
An investigation by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum’s office to determine what problems and difficulties the city’s senior centers faced during the blackout last August revealed that very few had backup generators to provide power and maintain safety during the emergency.
Gotbaum’s study showed that more than half of the centers surveyed throughout the city, or 41 out of 75, had severe food spoilage, were unable to open the day after the blackout, and had difficulty caring for seniors forced to stay overnight.
The survey did not discover any injuries or fatalities resulting from the blackout.
Of the 15 Queens centers included in the survey, none had a generator. Only one, the Lefrak Center in Rego Park, had access to a generator. The Bayside, Hillcrest, Brooks, Corona, Forest Hills, Glenridge, Pomonok, and International Towers Senior Centers had extensive food spoilages.
Based on the findings, the study recommended that emergency backup generators be provided at all 376 centers in the city at a cost of $1.35 million.
It also recommended that emergency supplies should be made available at all centers, that evacuation plans should be developed for all of them, and that regular maintenance should be provided for the emergency backup generators.
"I urge DFTA [the city Department for the Aging] and NYCHA [the New York City Housing Authority] to take these common sense steps so senior centers can be the safe haven for elderly New Yorkers that they are supposed to be," Gotbaum declared.
"Not only is it imperative for all senior centers to have approved emergency preparedness plans, they should also be equipped with backup generators for emergency situations," she said. This would ensure a safe and convenient haven for seniors during power failures of all kinds.
The DFTA operates 336 centers and the NYCHA 40 others. Both agencies should develop a single, comprehensive plan of action for all senior centers in the event of an emergency, Gotbaum said.
The plan should include provisions for occasions when members of a center are forced to remain there overnight. During the blackout, this situation arose in three centers. In these cases, there must be adequate supplies, especially non-perishable food, training of staff, volunteers and clients in first aid and securing a means of communication that does not depend solely on phone service, Gotbaum said.
Pointing up the special needs of seniors and the centers, Gotbaum said power failures are especially trying for vulnerable seniors. She added:
"This underscores the need for elderly service providers, like senior centers, to be readily prepared to mitigate problems that can arise from power failures and other emergencies."
Gotbaum noted: "Many elderly people suffer from poor vision, poor hearing, diminished mobility, dementia and many other impediments to their mental and physical health. In times of power failures and other similar emergencies, these impediments may cause discomfort at best and even death at worst.
"Hence, it is imperative that service providers are equipped with emergency preparedness measures to help prevent dangerous situations that may arise as a result of a power failure. One such measure would be to ensure senior center access to emergency backup generators that can maintain some portion of the electric power load. These emergency generators could be used to run elevators in buildings, provide lighting, ensure the safety of facilities, provide heating or cooling and prevent food spoilage."
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