Council seeks translators for immigrant seniors


City Council members have urged the city’s Department of Aging to provide more language interpreters to community-based programs that work directly with immigrant seniors.

At a hearing held Feb. 26 in City Hall, members of the Council committees on immigration and aging focused attention on programs serving clusters of senior citizens known as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities.

Caryn Resnick, deputy commissioner of the city Department for the Aging, said the agency has provided supportive services for the elderly in these communities, including preventive health and wellness activities and almost all participate in a Health Indicators Initiative. She said that 23 of the 28 programs serving the retirement communities have large numbers of retired immigrants.

These programs “have appropriate staffing to meet language access needs, organize cultural activities that interest various groups and coordinate programs geared toward immigrant seniors,” she said.

As an example, Resnick pointed to culturally sensitive programming such as Café Con Leche, a weekly meeting at the Isabella Geriatric Ft. George VISTAS in Manhattan, which is geared towards Latino seniors. The meetings provide activity and support groups as well as volunteering opportunities for Spanish speaking-seniors at the facility.

However, the City Council members said that the current model needs to do more for the growing number of senior immigrants who find comfort in places where their language is spoken.

“Immigrants have a tendency to get involved with their own communities, and that would keep them away from this NORC programs,” said Council member Paul Vallone (D-Astoria). “They’re going to continue going to places where there is a comfort level and we need to find a way to provide that comfort for them.”

Vallone said that one of the best courses of action would be to provide the 28 NORC facilities in New York City with language interpreters until the Department of Aging and City Council can work on a better system for the program.

“There is a sense of urgency here, and I commend DFTA [Department for the Aging] for working with us, but this is not enough,” said Council member Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the Council Committee on Immigration. “Our committee is committed to making sure that immigrant seniors live healthy lives as well as civic lives in New York City, but we need a new budget and policies.”

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