Last week University Settlement submitted testimony to the New York City Council’s Committee on Aging for the joint preliminary budget hearing. Read the full testimony below.
FY 2021 Joint Preliminary Budget Hearing: Committee on Aging
Council Member Margaret Chin, Chair of the Committee on Aging
Presented by Bing Ji, Program Director of the Village View NORC and Wellness Together at University Settlement
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony. I’m Bing Ji, the Program Director of the Village View NORC and Wellness Together at University Settlement.
For 135 years, University Settlement has provided holistic community programming for families and communities across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Our programming reaches from babies to older adults, including early childhood education, adult literacy classes, afterschool programs, housing counseling and eviction prevention, and mental health programs.
The city must increase mental health funding so we can expand our mental health programming so more older adults can access it. Older adults are not a monolith, and DFTA needs more funding and more flexibility for organizations to come up with their own program models. Right now, because DFTA places clinicians in senior centers, access to these resources is limited to older people who are connected to senior centers. According to the Center for Urban Future, city-wide, less than 20% of eligible older adults actually go to senior centers. With more funding, we could expand the programming to reach those older adults who do not come to senior centers. And importantly, we almost must expand funding to reach homebound older people.
As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant a full year of isolation for elders. Last March, so many of older people who had robust NYC lives going to senior centers, attending classes, and shopping for themselves suddenly found themselves staying at home out of fear and uncertainty about a virus. With spring around the corner, there are many reasons to hope: the U.S. is seeing increased vaccine supplies and number of vaccinations. We know that the city’s move towards at-home vaccinations will be of great help to so many of our homebound older adults and ones who are understandably cautious about traveling far to mass vaccination sites. But even as we move closer to controlling the physical dangers of the virus, the mental and emotional results of this past difficult year will continue.
Over five years ago, University Settlement developed our Mental Health for Older Adults Initiative that provides a continuum of critical mental health care embedded within our existing programs. These programs include our two DFTA-funded senior centers (one at 189 Allen Street and one at Meltzer Towers); the HeART Program, which provides targeted health and wellness
classes for older adults; and our NORC program at the Village View housing complex. Together, these programs reach over 2,000 older adults a year.
Our Mental Health Initiative provides a continuum of mental health services, from light-touch recreational activities, to intensive one-on-one counseling. This model addresses stigma around mental health, and provides ways to become gradually involved at whatever level of need individuals may have, and degree of readiness they may demonstrate. The Initiative focuses on trust-building and is offered with higher level of flexibility than traditional counseling settings to successfully engage older adults in the process of addressing their mental health needs at their own pace.
Our Initiative has a team of four multilingual clinicians with cross-cultural backgrounds and expertise, which helps us ensure that the older adults are more comfortable with the mental health programming, making our programming more effective. We provide home and virtual visits, and for participants who are connecting virtually, we help them set up and navigate their technology.
With our experience, we believe contracts should allow providers more flexibility. For example, currently, DFTA places clinicians at senior centers, which is understandably helpful for providers without mental health resources. But as University Settlement has our own mental health Consultation Center with trained clinicians and a physician on staff, we believe leaning on our existing staff and resources would only further strengthen our program. Indeed, our smooth in-settlement-house referral system has enhanced our ability to provide additional or continual mental health support for many older adult participants. The close collaboration between our Mental Health and Older Adult Programs has also been key in developing and refining our highly successful, nontraditional Mental Health Initiative. Thus, building in flexibility will let providers better give their program participants the care they need.
Additionally, we are concerned that DFTA is the City agency with the smallest amount of funding even as the older adult population is increasing across the city. Over the next years, we hope that the city will increase DFTA’s budget to serve this growing population.
Lastly, we echo other nonprofits in calling on the city to fulfill its indirect rate commitment.