Geriatric Social Work Facing A Daunting Task in New York
Susan Moritz, LCSW, Director of Older Adult Services at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
In December 2006, the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) announced their intention to redesign its network of aging services. The changes were necessary so that New York City would be ready for the expected onslaught of boomers who would overwhelm the existing system, and to respond to changing demographics that left communities with large groups of elders and no locally based services. The three service areas DFTA focused on were case management, home delivered meals, and senior centers. These programs make up what DFTA considers its core services and are funded through federal, state and city dollars.
The changes coupled with the current fiscal crisis have resulted in more loss, and have created barriers to services for our clients. The loss of long standing relationships with workers and organizations (who either lost contracts or communities as the city carved out new service areas), the loss of available services (cuts to homecare and case management services) and the closing of senior centers as well as new requirements for assessment and eligibility are seen by many as obstacles to accessing and providing services.
Social workers implementing these programs and services are faced with a daunting task that frequently leaves us feeling frustrated and frankly, angry. Our clients are frail, often isolated, and present with a myriad of emotional issues and concrete needs that require skillful negotiation, creativity, patience and, most of all, time to address. We are not merely giving a meal or putting in homecare. We are utilizing these services as a means to address the much larger issues of social isolation, safety, and an individual’s emotional well being. Chipping away at the limited funding that exists for aging services creates a climate that discourages good social work practice, and is an affront to those trying to provide more than the bare minimum. However, it is the deep commitment we have to our clients and a firm belief in the work we do that allows us to persevere despite the obstacles.