To the people who want to make sure Senior Citizens are cared for in a manner they decide and are wanting to make sure they, like everyone, survive (and thrive) through the present pandemic while preparing for the future:
I am writing to connect with someone who gives a shit. Not just gives a shit about life, though that would be a requirement as well, but someone who actually cares about the well-being of Senior Citizens first. Not a Senior Center who is worried about whether they get “Satisfactory” on their report card from their government-funded agency, but rather, someone who feels obligated to use their abilities and resources to better the people who deserve it most.
It’s not that Senior Centers and their employees do not care about their Seniors, for the people involved can be – and usually are – wonderful, but if the system is wrong, all that greatness can be for nothing.
As a former director of two Senior Centers in Brooklyn, NY, this pandemic is going to force and therefore recreate the conversation about the fact that the system of caring for and tending to Senior Citizens needs to change. It took Hurricane Katrina to fix the levees in New Orleans, and it will take a pandemic to save our most honorable, experienced and vital population.
So why am I writing?
I have been listening to many of the leaders in the field of Senior services in NYC (i.e. DFTA, DOH, the Food Czar, the Mayor of NYC, etc) and I do not think anyone has the energy or the progressive foresight necessary to move Senior Centers into the future so that Seniors are actually a part of it. But more importantly, that seniors can be happy and live a fruitful, random, symbiotic life with people of all ages and from all backgrounds. Imagine if New Orleans rebuilt the same houses the same way, and left the levee walls as they were prior to Hurricane Katrina. This is how the City of New York seems to be preparing for the future of Senior Centers and Elder Care. Most importantly, this is a problem that needs to be corrected and it is a combination of two things:
1. Senior Centers spend all of their time responding to the requirements set forth by their government-funded agency, who, during this pandemic, have proven to be unreliable at best. In this case, the Department for the Aging (DFTA) in NYC. You would think these requirements would be the best option for Seniors moving forward, but I would testify in front of the World’s jury to tell you it was and is certainly not. In fact, DFTA’s two main orders at the start of the pandemic in March/April were to call as many Seniors as possible as often as possible (I personally cut nearly every conversation short because we had to meet weekly quotas), and then when it became hot outside, we were asked to find out which Seniors did not have an air conditioner and get that information to the city of New York ASAP. It was as if the local town dam broke, and the City’s idea for fixing it was putting up a fence that would inevitably require a better idea in 2 – 3 weeks. Let’s just say I had 400+ Seniors who were lonely, wanted to socialize and use Zoom if possible, but the City of New York was more worried about the list of 13 Seniors who needed an Air Conditioner while they also opened up cooling centers for the exact 13 people they would say had such drastic needs. In addition, all that was and has been shown in the press is the Virtual programming that is supposedly helping so many Seniors. Well, I can tell you that less than 25% of our membership has access to virtual programming. The Commissioner of DFTA keeps highlighting how “virtual programming at Senior Centers has tripled.” Well, if I told you that 75% of our members did not have access to food, would that be a successful initiative?
2. Senior Centers are twenty years behind. The Commissioner for DFTA said it herself, that the last time they changed the Senior Center model was 2003, and that the last time they looked at doing so (2011), they didn’t change much at all. In addition, DFTA still uses fax machines to receive contracts, almost none of the Senior Centers in the largest city in the world (NYC) have a legitimate website, and when it comes to teaching virtual programming to a membership, only a few people (at most) at Senior Centers can even teach it to their membership.
This reactive approach might semi-work when things are “normal,” but during a pandemic, it is glaringly apparent that this system can no longer remain the same, and we must do something about it.
Therefore, I did something about it.
I created a “Pandemic Influenza Response Plan for Senior Centers AND their Members” so that Senior Centers can actually help ALL of their Seniors with their actual needs. But then I thought, would that help? What if I sent it to the City of New York? Well, I did that the first time when I created a “Coping with Covid-19” Synopsis so that the City was aware of how my former Senior Center reacted following the closing of all Senior Centers. The Commissioner of the Department for the Aging actually responded to this synopsis and said she was going to share it with her department and on her next call with the City. In addition, we were chosen by the City of New York as the representative of a successful Senior Center response to Covid-19.
Now back to the “Pandemic Influenza Response Plan for Senior Centers AND their Members”, because this is the part that will actually help Senior Centers and other organizations reach all of their members, especially the ones who need it most. I created a list of 20 questions similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. Each question forces you to confront your resources, and available options, and you can not proceed to the next question until you have completed the question preceding it. By the completion of the 20th question, each Senior Center can feel that they are aware of and tending to the needs of ALL of their members. Just follow the outline, and it will lead your Seniors to a far better place. I am sure of this.
The only thing I need help with is getting it into the right hands. Is that you?
I don’t care who it is, I just want Senior Centers to start following some outline that brings stability and puts them in the right direction. Let’s just say I didn’t spend my life giving thanks to my grandparents by leaving everyone else’s grandparents to fend for themselves. I will not do that to them. It would be like Clark Kent being handed the only cape, and saying, “nah, screw it.”
So here is the “Pandemic Influenza Response Plan for Senior Centers AND their Members.” If you are interested in using it, please do. If you have any questions, you can ask me. But remember, you do know your Seniors best. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and healthy during this time. We will get through this, but we have to make sure to do so together and to ask for help when we need it. Again, I am here if you need it.