TESTIMONY: City Council Aging Committee Hearing: Reducing Senior Social Isolation and Increasing Recruitment and Retention at Senior Centers

New York City Council
Joint Committee Hearing
Committee on Aging, Council Member Margaret Chin, Chair
Subcommittee on Senior Centers, Council Member Paul Vallone, Chair
Oversight - Reducing Senior Social Isolation and Increasing Recruitment and Retention at Senior Centers

Testimony of Andrea Cianfrani, Deputy Director of Public Policy, LiveOn NY 

Thank you Chairwoman Chin and Chairman Vallone and the Aging Committee and Senior Center Subcommittee for holding this hearing to discuss the valuable contributions senior centers, programs and agencies provide and how their work to engage the community  makes New York a better place to age.  It is fitting that this hearing is being held today, recognizing that September is Senior Center month. 

LiveOn NY’s community-based aging services members have been on the front lines of serving the diverse population of older New Yorkers for many years.  They offer programs that directly promote social interaction and prevent isolation including neighborhood and Innovative Senior Centers (ISCs), senior nutrition and anti-hunger programs, affordable senior housing with services, benefits assistance, elder abuse prevention and services, caregiver supports, transportation, adult day services and other culturally competent neighborhood based services.  Older adults gain access to these and other services mainly through the city’s nearly 250 senior centers. You will hear from many of those agencies today about the specific programs they offer to their communities.

Their work plays a daily critical role in preventing isolation.  DFTA and Fordham University released a groundbreaking study on June 28, 2016 by Manoj Pardasani and Cathy Berkman titled Senior Center Evaluation Report.  This study looked at adults 60 years or older who had gone to a senior center at least once a week over a one year period. More than 66% of the respondents noted that socialization and avoiding isolation was a reason for attending, which was the highest response for why they attended.  Further, the study reported that self reported depression levels and anxiety decreased after one year of attending the senior center.  Of note:

“Participation in a senior center also helped to reduce social isolation. Senior centers are not only a place for socialization, but also provide health education, fitness programs, meals and recreational and educational programs. The older adult population served by senior centers are among those with the lowest incomes, the fewest resources, the poorest health, the greatest social isolation, and most in need of services. The findings of this study indicate that senior centers are attracting this group that has multiple needs, and SC members experience improved physical and mental health not only in the time period after joining a senior centers, but maintain or even continue to improve even one year later. This is a very important finding, given the decline in health and social activity in this age group, especially among those with low income. Maintenance of health and social activity, rather than a decline in health, is a major benefit of senior centers.” 1

Prevention of social isolation for older adults cannot be emphasized enough. A September 5, 2016 New York Times article titled Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness recently highlighted the epidemic of loneliness. It noted recent research that found loneliness even goes so far as to surpass obesity as a predictor of early death.

Current resources do not allow senior services staff to connect with the broad array and ever changing and ever growing senior population and to expand this work.  LiveOn NY thanks Council Members Chin and Vallone for leading this charge and highlighting the blatant inadequate lack of funding for core senior services.  As noted in your letter to Mayor de Blasio on May 26, which was signed by a large number of your colleagues, you point out that while the elderly population is the fastest growing demographic in New York City, DFTA’s budget in FY16 was less than one-half of 1 percent of the City’s $78.5 billion adopted budget.  As you further note, the lack of investment seniors through baselined funding requires the City Council step in to close funding gaps for these core senior programs.  

While it is beneficial and appreciated that the City Council restores DFTA funds each year, the lack of baselining has led to loss of services, late receipt of funds, and an inability to plan. And while we greatly appreciate City Council’s support, as you articulate in your May 26 letter, one-time imitative spending is not the “stable and secure source of funds that the Administration should be providing” for core senior programs.

As noted in LiveOn NY’s 2013 Aging Tsunami Report, a key recommendation is to Support Core Senior Center-Based Community Building Services. The city must baseline current and new DFTA Funding. It is critical to first address the challenges noted above regarding funding core services with baselined dollars. Further, the city should expand Innovative Senior Centers (ISC). Beginning in 2010, DFTA began creating ISCs, each built on the concept of innovation and robust programming. As you have heard today, these centers have developed extraordinary programs.  Both neighborhood senior centers and all ISCs must be funded to keep pace with the growing needs of older adults. 

LiveOn NY also wanted to take this opportunity to inform you about other innovations in the field that will contribute to the work of senior centers.  LiveOn NY provides training and capacity building
assistance to our members that highlights best practices and innovative programs to incorporate into their agencies to increase retention and recruitment. 
Further, LiveOn NY is excited to partner with the National Council on Aging to bring The Aging Mastery Program® (AMP) to New York State. The Aging Mastery Program® is a 10 week education series that combines goal-setting, daily practices, and peer support to help participants making meaningful changes in their lives. The goal is to change societal expectations about the roles and responsibilities of baby boomers and older adults to create fun and easy-to-follow pathways for getting more out of life. This is a local project that will have national significance. Currently, LiveOn NY is partnering with seven member agencies to implement AMP within their communities and bringing this program to the senior centers. In the first implementation we've already seen the participating programs show an increase in attendance and engagement of current members and interest from new members.  

Programs funded by (DFTA) are the only long-term care services available for elderly New Yorkers above the Medicaid level.  The funding allocated to DFTA for all of aging programs does not reflect that reality.  Investing in these core programs is vital to the health of our city. Thank you for your dedication to making New York a better place to age.

[1] Senior Center Evaluation Final Report, Manoj Pardasani, Cathy Berkman, June 28, 2016, p.3