Senior Spotlight By John Toscano
Despite opposition by some public officials and senior advocates, the city Department for the Aging (DFTA) has issued a controversial Request for Proposals (RFP) dealing with home delivered meals.
The DFTA's action drew a mixed reaction from several city councilmembers, but a strong rebuke from a major citywide senior advocates group, the Council of Senior Centers and Services (CSCS).
According to a news release from the DFTA issued last Thursday, the agency said the RFP, which sets an August 1 deadline for responses, marks a pivotal step in the department's efforts to improve services for the city's 1.3 million older New Yorkers for the present and future.
Under the provisions of the RFP, the daily home-delivered hot meals program would be expanded and enhanced, would offer more food choices unless seniors choose bi-weekly frozen meal delivery, and would respond to the diverse needs of the city's homebound population, including ethnic and dietetic needs and preferences.
The DFTA said, "Successful bidders must demonstrate their ability to provide both flash-frozen and daily hot meals in one or more of 20 specified geographic regions [which] closely align with the recently awarded 23 case management contracts."
The case management changes and the changes proposed under the home delivered meals RFP are part of the Bloomberg administration's strategy to strengthen community-based services to allow an increased number of older New Yorkers to age in place in the future.
However, CSCS charged, the Bloomberg administration was moving full speed ahead on an ill-planned overhaul of neighborhood-based hot home delivered meals, even as the DFTA "tries to clean up a mess it caused by failing to count more than 3,000 older adults on its own records in an earlier change to case management contracts".
Bobbie Sackman, a CSCS official, said if the DFTA failed to include those 3,000 seniors in their count, "How many seniors will be left hungry and isolated when they rush to gut the Meals-on-Wheels program?"
Councilmember David Weprin (D- Hollis), council Finance Committee chair, said instituting frozen meals was not a good idea. "You lose daily contact with the homebound senior, which is important if they have a problem," he said.
Councilmember Peter Vallone (D- Astoria) said, "The council just wants to be sure the option between the daily hot meal or the frozen meal is available to every senior."
But Councilmember Melinda Katz (D- Forest Hills) charged that the DFTA's "one-size-fits-all approach is shortsighted and won't address real concerns of an expanding senior population".
Katz added that she had previously urged the mayor and DFTA to reconsider "these potentially damaging changes to programs elderly New Yorkers depend on" and she remained concerned that DFTA has not fully addressed the details and potential problems which can arise as a result of the significant changes to the home delivered meals program DFTA seeks to implement.
Katz said that cost should not dictate how the program is administered rather than the social interaction home delivery provides.
SENIORS' ACCESS-A-RIDE ALSO UNDER SCRUTINY: While the seniors' meal delivery plan is getting a serious lookover, Councilmember John Liu (D- Flushing) is scrutinizing how eligibility for the seniors' Access-A-Ride bus service is determined.
Shortcomings in that program, which is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), were revealed recently when an 86-year-old Flushing senior, Toby Rosen, had to fight her way back on to the eligibility list although she had been enrolled in the program for the previous six years. Her problem arose when the MTA changed the eligibility rules.
After Rosen was denied acceptance into the program on her first try, despite having multiple physical ailments attested to by her physician, Liu accompanied her when she challenged the original denial of membership in the program. She was then deemed eligible.
Liu, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said afterwards: "Is there a need to bring costs under control? Yes, but by making things more efficient, not by artificially cutting people off, even though it's clear they need Access-A-Ride, and even clearer that they do not need to be reassessed.
"In the absence of proof that there is a significant amount of abuse, there are far better ways to cut costs. Make the route planning and scheduling more efficient. Introduce more use of smaller, more flexible vehicles, but don't cut costs simply by taking rides away from the people who actually depend on [them]."