When will New York City’s senior centers reopen? City Hall offers little clarity

Home-bound seniors receive COVID-19 vaccinations
The city’s Department for the Aging has been working to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of seniors, at home and across the city. But City Hall still does not know when senior centers across the five boroughs will get to reopen.
REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Though hospitalizations among seniors have dropped since COVID-19 vaccinations began, there’s still no specifics on when senior community centers in New York City can reopen, Department for the Aging (DFTA) Commissioner Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez said during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s morning briefing on Wednesday. 

Even so, de Blasio and DFTA are promising a $50 million investment tailored for seniors in the near future that adds 25 senior centers in various neighborhoods to existing centers, services, and programming.

Cortés-Vázquez confirmed at the briefing that DFTA has been working with the city’s Health Department to get vaccines into seniors’ arms with great success; about 64% of seniors have received at least the first vaccine dose. She said that senior centers will eventually have “phased” reopenings.

“Our community care plan is a five-year plan that focuses on universal and equitable access to services,” said de Blasio. “Helping to ensure that when seniors need a range of services and support, it’s there for them.”

Cortés-Vázquez said that there’s simply not enough in-home services in the city to support the 1.7 million aging New Yorkers with the assistance they need. She said eventually everyone in the city will one day need these services to live in homes with dignity and respect.

“The pandemic highlighted the detrimental effects of living in institution housing on most adults, older adults, and their families. Study after study has indicated that older adults health and mental health fair much better if the older adult lives at home rather than an institution,” said Cortés-Vázquez, speaking about nursing homes. 

“We need to shift to a community care plan,” she said.

Cortés-Vázquez said the additional senior centers will target underserved naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) throughout the city. She said they’ll also provide extra staff, shopping assistance, and transportation for seniors that live in hard to reach neighborhoods.

Cortés-Vázquez said there’s also a much bigger push for outreach to seniors because of the COVID crisis. “During the pandemic we found 125,000 older adults who had lived independently, did not require services, who raised their hand and said they were in need, and those individuals continue to need services. This plan will incorporate them as well,” said Cortés-Vázquez.

Councilmember Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) is Chair of the Council’s Committee on Aging and a fierce advocate for seniors. Chin said that the increase in centers will help seniors and immigrants that don’t have access to services.  

“Our seniors have suffered tremendously during this pandemic. So many of them have dealt with social and physical isolation, grief and loss, and physical and mental health issues,” said Chin. 

De Blasio said that senior centers are a part of the glue of the life of seniors, which wasn’t the case last year.

“Now, thank God, the situation is improving,” said de Blasio.”We’re working on the next steps going forward.”