Testimony of Gregory J Morris, Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center,
New York City Council Committee on Aging
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
My name is Gregory J Morris and I am the Executive Director at the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center. I would like to thank Chair Margaret Chin and the Committee for the opportunity to speak today in response to the question, “How Can Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities Improve and Expand Services?”
The Isaacs Center is a non-profit, multi-service organization founded in 1964. Throughout its history, Isaacs Center has sought to develop programs of quality and distinction in response to the evolving needs of the communities we serve. Today, Isaacs Center operates at three locations – each location is a “hub” of activity for residents especially children of low income families, disconnected young adults, and vulnerable older adults including the isolated and medically frail.
The Isaacs Center Senior Center has been in operation for nearly 50 years, since the organization’s opening, and is designed to support “aging in place.” It is located within the New York City Housing Authority’s Isaacs Houses/Holmes Towers (Isaacs/Holmes) – a public housing development in the neighborhood of Yorkville. More than 2,039 seniors accessed services at the Isaacs Center Senior Center last year. Of those older adults, 71% of clients were female and 29% were male. Of the 87% of seniors who reported their racial/ethnic background, 40% reported as Caucasian, 15% African American or Black; 21% Hispanic and 8% Asian. Forty-two percent (42%) of clients were between the ages of 65 and 74, 32% between the ages of 75 and 84, and 20% were 85 years of age and older.
The Isaacs Center operates a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (or NORC) at Isaacs/Holmes. As the committee is aware, a NORC is a geographic community not originally built for seniors, but now is home to a significant proportion of older residents. There are 1,164 apartments in Isaacs/Holmes, with approximately 500 units (43%) housing individuals over the age of 60. Our Senior Center and NORC have been aligned to create a “seamless” integration of experiences for all members.
Last year, we provided 1,468 educational and recreational activities at the Senior Center aligned with our “Isaacs in Motion” health and fitness initiative (including Zumba, meditation, yoga, arts and cultural expression projects, technology classes, and support groups). We served 29,734 congregate meals and delivered 352,967 meals to the isolated and homebound.
The greatest benefit we offer seniors is the seamless provision of cohesive services that can be accessed in one place. Our efforts to support the wellness, comfort, and security of our seniors as they age have centered on three critical areas of need: financial management, housing stability, and nutrition and health. Last year, our case managers provided 825 seniors with 3,130 hours of support focused on immediate, short-term, and long-term intervention strategies related to these areas of need.
We developed a Financial Management Screening Tool (Tool), which has been shared with other agencies and allows us to take a “snap-shot” of a client’s financial status. This Tool provides a rough idea of income vs. expenses, whether there is an “income-gap”, and if the client is accessing appropriate benefits. We use this Tool to set goals and generate a case plan that achieves financial stability. The evaluation begins with benefits and entitlements and if there remains a financial need such as rent arrear we apply for an emergency grant or stipends through foundations and agencies such as the Tuttle Fund, Metropolitan Council, Otto Sussman, Lenox Hill, or the Society for the Relief of Women and Children. We also collaborate with NYCHA’s Social Services Department particularly around rent issues, working with management and client to find a reasonable solution to prevent eviction.
We assist with the completion of Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) applications, SCRIE renewals and Enriched Housing/Home Sharing Program applications. In addition to assisting with rent arrears, Case Management staff worked with building management and landlords on behalf of clients to address disputes and prevent eviction. We make referrals as needed to Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS), Lenox Hill Neighborhood House’s Legal Advocacy Department and LawHelp of New York. When clients are having difficulty obtaining requisite repairs to assure safety in their apartments, staff assist with itemized request letters and “Request for Rent Reduction” forms as needed, compelling building management and landlords to complete the necessary work. For those clients in unstable housing, staff members make referrals to New York Foundation for Senior Citizens sponsored Home Sharing program, and assist applying for housing lotteries. This year, we successfully assisted a disabled client in obtaining a beautiful new apartment in a new East 92nd Street housing complex.
Nutrition and Health
Isaacs Center works with the Visiting Nurse Services of New York (VSNY) to provide health care case management, including assessing needs and developing care plans with the client and/or the client’s family members or caregivers and arranging and coordinating services and resources on the resident’s behalf. Last year, our Members received 284 hours of health care management and 206 hours of heath case assistance, such as reviewing medications and managing chronic conditions and health problems.
We recommend that the Committee encourage and invest in the following strategies to strengthen the impact of NORCs:
- Analyze the impact of the “hybrid” model of aging services that directly links NORC and Senior Center programs and personnel. The Department for the Aging and New York State Office for the Aging have both expressed interest in understanding how the integration of aging services at an organization like ours can improve the lives of participants and create cost savings.
- Fund the provision of Walk-in Clinic hours for NORC residents to drop in without an appointment to meet with case management staff for assistance with short-term issues and concerns. During these 15 to 30 minute sessions at the Isaacs Center, clients meet with case workers and MSW-level student interns to receive assistance and information. Services provided during the clinic include benefit screening and application assistance and assistance with concerns related to housing, financial management, and mental and physical health. Clients with more extensive needs are scheduled for follow-up appointments for more in-depth case assistance or case management support.
- Invest in the role of Community Health Worker and Health Coach. With proper training health care entities like VNSNY, and oversight from community-based organizations like ours, Workers and Coaches, can identify NORC residents who present medical and/or cognitive decline and/or have financial issues that are threatening their housing stability. These Workers and Coaches could then take an active role in supporting the coordination of services to stabilize clients before crisis.
Maintaining and supporting comprehensive and quality services – services that help seniors thrive as they age – is essential. NORCs provide a unique opportunity to carry out the vision of an age-friendly City. The Isaacs Center is committed to ensuring that our seniors have access to these services.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
 This may be noticed because a senior resident has fallen behind on their rent, or NYCHA staff members have noticed through housing inspections that the client’s living environment has become unsanitary and unsafe.