Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Meeting Hurricane Sandy Head-On: New York City's Aging Services Network Delivers in a Crisis

Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Meeting Hurricane Sandy Head-On: New York City's Aging Services Network Delivers in a Crisis

Article excerpt

When Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York City on October 29, 2012, it crippled mass transit, devastated whole neighborhoods, and triggered gas shortages and power outages that left thousands of residents without heat, hot water, or electricity. These conditions created formidable challenges for the city's providers of senior center, home-delivered meals, and other vital services to older New Yorkers.

At many program sites along shoreline areas, flooding, wind, sand accumulation, and debris damaged windows, doors, walls, ceilings, kitchen equipment, furniture, files, and computers. Widespread electrical failure shut down elevators; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; hot water heaters; fire alarm; and telephone systems.

Staff faced huge hurdles doing their jobs. Like the elders they served, many were themselves victims of the storm, coping without heat and electricity at home, and worrying about their cars that had been washed away, their flooded basements, and disrupted lives. It took hours, sometimes, to get to work by car pool or mass transit, even when mass transit was running. Where gas for their vehicles was not available, staff and volunteers walked to deliver meals to the homebound. Those who could obtain gas waited in long lines at stations and drove through debris-strewn streets without working traffic lights. They climbed flights of stairs flashlight in hand, and groped their way down hallways to knock on doors in darkened apartment buildings that lacked buzzers and elevators. Case managers making home visits underwent the same ordeal of climbing stairs in the dark to get to clients' apartments. When senior centers reopened as warming centers for their communities,1 hundreds of individuals of all ages turned to directors and staff for hot meals and respite, not just their regular members.

New York's aging services providers-a network of communitybased organizations in every borough-overcame these obstacles to achieve a remarkable level of service delivery. They not only managed to continue to provide services to their clients during a time of havoc and devastation but also to bring relief to thousands they had not previously served. This article describes the mandated New York City emergency preparation and response procedures that guided these agencies through the crisis. It also describes how the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA)-the city agency that administers aging services-facilitated the network's response and coordination efforts within the context of the city's overall response, despite a compromised communications system and the absence of a central office. Although recognizing that more programs than can be mentioned here have similar stories, the article's third section tells of exemplary programs that worked tirelessly and selflessly to ensure that elders in stricken communities were safe, fed, cared for, and assisted.

NEW YORK'S SERVICE SYSTEM FOR THE ELDERLY

Aging services in New York City are administered by the city's DFTA, a mayoral agency as well as a Federal Area Agency on Aging under the New York State Office on Aging. Actual service delivery is the province of hundreds of community-based organizations throughout the five boroughs that contract with the department. Eighty-five percent of the federal, state, and city tax levy funds that DFTA receives to serve the elderly under the Older Americans Act and other statutes is channeled by the Department to these contracted community-based organizations for direct service provision. DFTA monitors these community agencies and manages contract compliance.

DFTA-funded services provided in the community include senior center services such as congregate meals, information and assistance, exercise programs, and social, creative, recreational, and learning activities. They also include home-delivered meals for older adults who cannot prepare or shop for food on their own and home care services for elders with functional impairments who are not eligible for Medicaid. …

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