High ranking city and state officials have called for a delay in plans by the City Department for the Aging to reorganize the city's 329 senior centers and services for seniors.
City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and state Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith called for a six-month delay in starting the process because it might lead to the closing of some local centers against the wishes of neighborhood residents and might imperil home-delivered meals.
DFTA Commissioner Edwin Mendez- Santiago has said 44 percent of the present neighborhood centers are underutilized and "citywide" centers might be more economically operated and redesigned to better serve future larger populations.
Thompson, joined by dozens of seniors and advocates Monday at a City Hall press conference, urged DFTA to delay issuing Requests for proposals that would fundamentally reorganize service delivery to seniors.
Thompson declared: "I have very strong concerns that DFTA may be preparing to close senior centers. While it is absolutely necessary to move our senior centers towards a more comprehensive promotion of healthy aging, DFTA must accomplish this with a more thorough and considered approach. These issues demand our utmost attention and concern."
Smith (D- Jamaica) warned the city's new plan could place seniors at risk by trimming down essential services while locking the city into long-term agreements without adequate public input.
"We can't jeopardize the health, nutrition and quality of life of our seniors in an effort to save money. I urge the mayor to reverse this decision now," he said.
Gotbaum also placed the blame on the economy as the reason behind DFTA and the mayor's plans.
Under the city's new proposals, senior centers will be under pressure to cut costs while at the same time adding new health and wellness programs for aging baby boomers, who are now reaching retirement age and will swell the senior ranks, Gotbaum noted.
"This will put core services like meals and transportation at risk," Gotbaum insisted. "That's why I am asking that this plan be reconsidered. At the very least, it should be delayed for six months and piloted with a small number of centers before it goes system wide. We cannot afford to put the core senior services that so many older seniors rely on in jeopardy."
Quinn, who generally agrees with Bloomberg administration plans, said councilmembers are afraid that modernization plans for some centers will force some others to be shut down permanently, which would also impact service delivery of senior meals.
Meanwhile, the Speaker wants DFTA to create job training for seniors who want jobs in the centers.
Responding to the broad scale complaints about DFTA plans, a spokesman for the mayor said Bloomberg is considering the request to postpone the plans for six months, but he maintains DFTA has discussed those plans with elected officials and community leaders for the past year.
One well known and respected advocate, Bobbie Sackman, who heads the Council of Senior Centers and Services, said the 44 percent projected increase in the city's senior population, proves the need for increased services, not reductions.
Under the DFTA plan, she said, "A frail, homebound elderly person could lose his or her case manager, Meals-On-Wheels delivery person or senior center that prepared the meal by the end of the year. These three important relationships should not be severed.
"Seniors around the city are understandably afraid that their senior center may close. We call on DFTA to rethink these proposals because they involve life-saving services that affect thousands of New Yorkers."
Thompson also noted that most seniors are strongly attached to their current center and programs, and relocating them because of consolidation could discourage many from attending any center due to travel limitations and disorienting changes in surroundings and routine.
Additionally, Thompson expressed apprehension that DFTA's planned consolidation of the Meals-On-Wheels program will result in fewer dietetic options, as many senior centers currently adapt meals to the ethnic cuisines of neighborhood clients.
As a result of these concerns, the Comptroller recommended that DFTA delay the issuance of its Request For Proposal (RFP), which would allow for additional time to develop a clearer model of service delivery. The extra time could also be used to explore possible partnerships with other city agencies and community healthcare providers to develop enhanced senior programs.
"DFTA has initiated dramatic changes in its three largest programs in a very short time frame," Thompson said. "A delay of six months would provide the agency with the opportunity to develop a more thorough plan, consider additional partnerships, and would also reduce the burden on the community based providers."