'City Has Failed To Address Problems With Senior Center Change'
Continuing his battle against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's major changes in serving the city's seniors, City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. has expressed strong concerns about the Department for the Aging's recently issued Request for Proposals (RFP) to implement sweeping changes in operating the city's senior centers.
In a letter to DFTA Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago and in testimony before the City Council Committee on the Aging last Friday, Thompson said the RFP leaves unanswered many significant questions about change in servicing the senior centers, among them health delivery services and a proper level of funding.
"The RFP imposes a centralized, highly structured program design without regard to existing capacity or neighborhood needs," Thompson complained. "By imposing a rigid approach to modernization, the implementation of the program risks alienating seniors who depend on their centers as an essential lifeline."
He told Mendez- Santiago if the questions he was raising about the RFP could not be answered in a timely fashion, "I urge you to withdraw the RFP at this time and reissue it at a future date with appropriate modifications."
Thompson, who is expected to run for mayor next year, also provided Mendez- Santiago with a detailed list of funding and programmatic concerns which he believes must be addressed before the DFTA moves ahead with the RFP.
In his testimony before the city council, besides expressing his position on the RFP, Thompson testified in support of a bill which would require 60 days' notice before a DFTA-funded senior center can be closed.
Thompson's office surveyed 61 senior centers throughout the city and found that while 90 percent of them provide blood pressure screening, many fewer screen for other age-related conditions such as hearing loss, diabetes and glaucoma.
"For the sake of our seniors as well as the providers who serve them, it is essential that a meaningful dialogue focused on how to meet the needs of all seniors, younger and older, able bodied and frail, precede any alteration of DFTA programming," Thompson declared.
Thompson also questioned the total funding that would be provided by the city to carry out the mandates contained in the RFP.
He noted that $20 million of the $117 million total funding in the RFP would come from the discretionary funds of borough presidents and the city council. But, he pointed out, this funding may not be available on a consistent basis.
In his council testimony he stressed that the RFP imposes costly new requirements that may exhaust available funding, leaving some centers without funds to continue operating.
"Consequently," he stated, "RFP proposers will likely need the maximum allowable $500,000 to operate neighborhood centers and $1 million for Senior Hubs to satisfy DFTA's new requirements."
He added, "If all centers propose at the maximum allocation, many of the 329 centers will have to close. DFTA itself projects that up to 89 centers could be shuttered."
Thompson also expressed concern that the DFTA might not have the ability to ensure a smooth roll-out of the new program. Citing DFTA's track record of replacing the Meals-On-Wheels daily hot meal programs with a semi-weekly frozen meal delivery, Thompson urged the agency to implement changes slowly in order to fine-tune its approach.
"As in any change in policy, there are 'winners' and 'losers'," Thompson pointed out. At all costs, we must ensure that our neediest seniors are not among the losers. If smaller, community based centers are forced to close, what will become of the seniors who rely on them for meals, socialization and assistance?
Earlier this year, Thompson joined with senior advocates and other elected officials to challenge the DFTA's plans to revise service delivery to seniors and urged the agency not to close senior centers as a result of any reorganization. As a result, the mayor announced that the city would slow its efforts to issue the RFPs.