The weather outside may have been wet and gloomy, but seniors at the Friendship Center were fired up at a rally on Thursday, protesting budget cuts that would reduce essential services at their facility, impacting its most frail clients.
The Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults Friendship Center serves mentally and physically frail older adults suffering with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and schizophrenia. In many cases, they have become socially isolated and partially dependent upon others for their daily living.
“Here we go again,” said William Collins, the JSPOA board president.“The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has decided to deal another blow to the seniors of New York City, reducing services in the name of efficiency.”
The center is dually funded by the Department for the Aging and the DOH, with the bulk of the funding coming from the latter. For this fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1, the mayor wants to eliminate the entire DOH share, $400,000, which would devastate the facility.
“It breaks my heart, because that means many of our clients would end up in a nursing home,” said Stephanie Zevon, program director at the center. “The cost of our funding is nothing compared to what the government would have to pay through Medicaid for long-term institutionalized care.”
Sixty-three of the center’s 102 members have special needs, and Zevon said that if the DOH funding is cut, the most frail clients, the ones who need the senior center the most, will be left without the help they need close to home, hurting them, their families and caregivers.
Alexandra Waldhorn, a spokeswoman for the DOH, said in an email that the agency will work with the center to find alternative services for clients, but did not elaborate.
City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), leader of the Queens delegation, said Friday that it is a priority for the council to get the full funding restored as it did last year. But he added that once again it will have to come from “the city’s treasury,” since the borough’s council members do not have enough money in their discretionary funds to put it back themselves. The seniors are counting on the cuts being blocked.
Harold Williams, who has been a client at the Friendship Center for the last three years, said he is grateful for the caring staff and fun activities and wouldn’t know where he and others would turn if the cuts are not restored.
“If it weren’t for this center, many of us would be at home wasting away,” Williams said. “Many of our members have no one at home to talk to. However, here we fellowship with one another.”
Seniors at the center engage in activities including tai chi, bingo, exercise, trips, jewelry making, art and music therapy.
Williams noted that the center’s attendees represent a good cross section of retired working class people — MTA employees, nurses, correction officers, police officers, laborers, cab drivers and members of the armed forces.
“All we are asking of those who are in charge is to give us something in return,” Williams said. “Keep our family together, keep our center open.”
Making the proposition all the more worse, according to Collins, is the way resources for seniors have already been reduced. He cited Meals on Wheels going from fresh to frozen foods, reductions to case management and cuts to funding for the mentally handicapped. “The human touch that is so valuable to seniors living alone is gone,” Williams said.