Manhattan’s best kept secret is Roosevelt Island. Once host to insane asylums, prisons, hospital outpatients, and uniform Soviet style blocks, the island is now dotted with shiny new condos, swathes of grassy playing fields and gardens, and the brand new Four Freedoms Park. A famed tram (which had a star turn on “Spiderman”), runs between Manhattan’s 59th street and the island and anchors what is surely one of the most unique commutes in NYC.
Our elders loved the spectacular views of Manhattan’s Upper East Side
We took our seniors on a day trip to Roosevelt Island recently. They enjoyed the spectacular views of Manhattan’s iconic buildings on the Upper East Side, walked along the riverside under the spindly beauty that is the Queensboro Bridge.
Elders pose In the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge on Roosevelt Island
Since most of our elders are active and healthy, they decided not to take the golf carts we had arranged, and walked over to the new FDR Four Freedoms Park. Located at the southern most tip of Roosevelt Island, it is the only memorial dedicated to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his home state. We had boxed lunches delivered which they ate in the picnic areas.
FDR’s face graces the new FDR Four Freedom’s Park on Roosevelt Island
Then it was picture time, and picture time, and…well…picture time. The tram ride was the highlight – the quick swing up into the skies over Manhattan transforms the city into a lego set for a fleeting, spectacular instant, before the ground come rushing back up as the tram descends. Quick trips like this one, help us vary the routine for our elders and help combat social isolation and build community. Plus, they give our members a chance to have fun and experience something new and exciting.
Our active seniors walked many over the riverside paths at Roosevelt island
India Home recently undertook a Needs Assessment Survey of the Bangladeshi elders we serve in order to gain an objective and honest understanding of their needs. In the tradition of our partnerships with universities, the survey was conducted by graduate students from Hunter College Urban Policy & Leadership Graduate Research. The findings from the survey were published in a report titled “Migrating from Bangladesh to New York: Needs of Seniors.” Working closely with India Home’s staff, graduate students, Katherine Elston, Marc Fernandes Oriade, Tanik Harbor and Jormary Melo co-authored the report.
The 2010 US Census reported that the New York metropolitan area is home to the largest concentration of South Asians in the United States. Bangladeshi seniors were the fastest growing group among all seniors in New York City, increasing at a rate of over 600% between 2000 and 2014, according to the Asian American Federation’s 2016 American Community Survey.
Moreover, 52% of the respondents in Jamaica had arrived in the US only within the last five years, and an additional 15% within the last ten. As a result, 77% of Bangladeshi seniors have limited English proficiency–a fact that points to an even greater need for immediate support.
The elders were asked 4 questions:
- What are the current housing needs for Bangladeshi seniors in regards to being both affordable as well as culturally-specific?
- What physical and mental health issues are impacting these seniors?
- Is access to quality health care available in their community?
- How does transportation (or lack of) impact their daily lives?
A robust survey tool and interview template was used to get answers from the elders at India Home’s Desi Senior Center. The survey was administered to 106 survey respondents and to nine key informants chosen from among other non-profits and leaders serving the community. The responses yielded a rich trove of data which was then analyzed to provide findings and make recommendations for the future.
Community Gaps and How to Move Forward
The research provided strong evidence of need for Bangladeshi seniors in Jamaica. The research team identified key findings within housing, mental and physical health, and transportation. In addition, the data revealed two important underlying concerns that should be addressed immediately.
1. Bangladeshi seniors face the highest rates of poverty and low income status across New York City.
2. As one of the newest senior immigrant populations in the region, their English language skills are low. This lack of proficiency makes it extremely hard for these seniors to navigate the community and the social service resources they need for support.
Furthermore, the findings from this needs assessment in Jamaica show even higher rates of lack of income and limited English proficiency than previously collected data from other city-wide research efforts.
Elders fill out the surveys created by Hunter College Urban Policy and Leadership Graduate Research
A few of the key findings to the initial four questions include:
- Lack of affordable culturally-specific independent senior housing in Jamaica
- high levels of social isolation and the stigma seniors face in regard to talking about their state of mental health
- the absence of chronic disease management and the negative impact of poor diet and limited exercise on their quality of life
- the underutilization of the public transit system due to cost, language barriers, and discomfort in navigating the system.
The research teams recommended that all needs identified within the report be integrated into India Home’s long-term strategic plan and the specific recommendations provided be taken up for implementation.
- expanding daily services at the center
- creating innovative programs for seniors and their families
- strengthening existing community partnerships as well as building new ones, and
- continuing to collect data to gain a deeper understanding of the community.
The report felt that by incorporating the report’s recommendations, India Home can further its mission to address the inequities that impact the most vulnerable community member, and help transform Jamaica’s Bangladeshi senior population from one with great needs to one with greater assets.
This article quotes the report with minor changes. To read the full report please click here: Migrating from Bangladesh: Needs of Seniors
DFTA Commissioner Donna Corrado at the Aging In Place Conference
Almost all of the adults we serve at India Home’s four centers in Queens are “aging in place,” or living independently in their homes. They get to choose their communities. They get to participate and contribute in their neighborhoods and maintain and widen their friendships and social connections. “Aging in Place” thus gives our members a sense of purpose and of their place in their immediate community and larger society. New York city has been active in developing age-friendly agendas, but suburban communities need to ramp up their efforts in creating livable and viable spaces for the aging.
The need becomes more pressing when we consider that by 2030 New York State is expected to experience a 40% growth in its 60+ population, increasing from 3.7 million in 2015 to 5.3 million. While almost all of New York State will experience rapid growth of people in the 75-85 and 85+ cohort, New York City, Nassau, and Suffolk counties are home to the largest older adult populations of immigrants and people of color, like the South Asian seniors we serve at India Home.
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi and Jacqueline B. Mondros, Dean and VP, Stony Brook University
It is with all these important considerations in mind that DFTA Commissioner Donna Corrado and others from NYS Office of Aging, AARP NY, and several other government and medical organizations along with experts in various fields serving older adults joined together to hold a Working Summit at the Hilton Garden Hotel on the campus of Stony Brook University.
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi represented India Home and provided input on the problems unique to South Asian elders at the conference. India Home’s early programs started in very suburban locations such as Queens Village, Baldwin, and Elmont. Through these experiences have given Dr. Kalasapudi a unique insight into best practices for culturally appropriate senior services in the suburban setting.
India Home wins the 2016 Local Community Leadership Award from NYU and AARP. Seen here with Daphne Kwok, the VP of Multi-cultural Affairs
India Home was awarded the 2016 Local Community Action Leadership Award by NYU CSAAH and AARP at the 8th Annual Aging Together, Bridging Generations conference for Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. This award recognized individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to improving the health of Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) older adults. We were honored for our leadership and commitment in advocating for and providing vital health and social service needs to the Indian and larger South Asian immigrant older adult community. NYU CSAAH felt that the organization’s visionary leadership had been critical in helping to achieve their mission to reduce health disparities in the Asian American community through outreach, education and research. NYU CSAAH is the only center of its kind in the country that is solely dedicated to research and evaluation on Asian American health and health disparities.
India Home was also invited to be on a panel titled “Improving Health at the Community Level: Community-Based Innovative Approaches and Promising Practices.” We discussed our use culturally sensitive health practices like Ayurveda and Yoga classes to attract, retain, and attain buy-in for continuing health education from our South Asian members. We also discussed the myriad ways in which we use community-specific dance, food, talks and trips that are culturally appropriate to combat social isolation and keep our seniors happy and attend to their physical and mental wellbeing.
Among the special guests at the conference were keynote speaker Jeanette C. Takamura, MSW, PhD, Dean of Social Work at Columbia University School of Social Work (and Former Assistant Secretary of Aging at US Department of Health & Human Services), as well as MSNBC anchor Richard Lui and AARP’s community ambassador, the famous retired general Tony Taguba.
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, India Home’s Executive Director, has been busy! On September 21, she was part of an invited group at NYC’s Department of Aging and Commissioner Donna Corrado’s initiative to end ageism.
Dr. K with DFTA Commissioner, Donna Corrado
Department of Aging’s Commissioner, Donna Corrado, Ashton Applewhite, author of anti-aging manifesto, This Chair Rocks, at the “End Ageism Now” initiative.
On the same day, Dr. Kalasapudi joined leaders from 12 other organizations for the first meeting of the Asian American Mental Health Roundtable convened by the Asian American Federation (AAF). Members of the roundtable talked about the growing mental health issues they’ve been seeing in the communities they serve, particularly among youth, seniors, and those suffering from PTSD. She will be working closely with roundtable members and the AAF in the coming months to identify ways in which to grow awareness of mental health issues in the Asian American community as well and long-term service capacity in the organizations that serve these populations.
The first Asian American Mental Health Round Table convened by the Asian American Federation
Dr. Kalasapudi, India Home’s ED, was in a panel with Councilman Barry Grodenchik and Deputy Mayor Richard Beury at the ThriveNYC Forum in Little Neck.
It is a well known fact that among South Asians and other Asian American groups mental health issues are regarded as taboo. “Emotional problems” like depression, bi-polar disorder, debilitating anxiety and so on are seen as embarrassing and go underreported, undiagnosed and untreated. Yet, 40% of Asian American elders report symptoms of depression that range from mild to severe. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Asian Americans. For Asian women 65+, the suicide rate is double the rate of suicide among white, non-Hispanics.
On September 20, 2016, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, India Home’s Executive Director discussed these issues as part of a forum organized on the ThriveNYC program by Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, Mental Health Commissioner Gary Belkin and Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens). The forum was hosted by Samuel Field Y at Little Neck. A geriatric psychiatrist herself, Dr. Kalasapudi brought her expertise to talk about how community organizations like India Home can help support the nearly one in five New Yorkers with mental health issues. Dr. Kalasapudi offered insights from her experience serving the needs of the South Asian community and shared prevalent South Asian expectations about and attitudes toward mental health :
Mental illness in South Asian communities is a growing problem and requires urgent attention to prevent calamities like the one reported in the New York Times about a postpartum depressed Bangladeshi mother last year. A significant portion of the South Asian community, particularly those living below poverty line, are vulnerable and tend to have higher burden of mental health problems due to cultural and language barriers. I hope Thrive NYC will focus on developing a special campaign addressing South Asian mental health needs by organizing community events and by funding South Asian community groups and health care providers to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services.
ThriveNYC is a health plan which will train 250,000 employees to bring about a change in the way mental illness is viewed. The initiative aims to transform mental issues into a problem that New Yorkers can easily seek help for – without shame – just as they would for a broken arm. Some aspects of the ThriveNYC program are already in the works. According to Deputy Mayor Buery, operators who can speak different languages have already been hired for a mental health hotline. This is welcome news, because even when Asian Americans and South Asians do seek help, they are often stymied by the lack of access to health care providers who are culturally competent or able to speak to them in their own language. Nevertheless, these hotlines need to be staffed better with operators who can speak a full array of South Asian languages and dialects.
Deputy Mayor Richard Buery with Dr. Kalasapudi at the ThriveNYC Mental Health Forum.
Dr. Vasudhara Kalasapudi and other leaders of Asian American non-profits met with NYC’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray.
Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, the Excecutive Director of India Home, met with New York’s First Lady Chirlane McCray, to advocate for better senior services for South Asians on January 19, 2016. The First Lady met with leaders from Asian American community organizations to talk about ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All, a plan of action that will help the city support the mental well-being of all New Yorkers. One in five New Yorkers face a mental health disorder each year and ThriveNYC sets forth a plan to make sure that New Yorkers can get the treatment that they need. Dr. Kalasapudi, who is a trained Geriatric Psychiatrist, was the only physician present at the meeting organized by the Asian American Federation. She shared her insights into why the mental health systems in New York sometimes fails immigrants with mental health issues. As a doctor who practices at Jamaica Hospita,l she has first hand experience when it comes to mental health issues in the South Asian community. The lack of culturally sensitive services specific to South Asians is a growing need in NYC, she said, especially given the marked increase in South Asian patients with mental health issues.
Dr. Vasudhara Kalasapudi advocates for culturally appropriate mental health services for immigrant New Yorkers
Earlier in the month, Dr. Kalasapudi was also quoted in a letter released by New York City Comptroller, Scott Stringer, advocating for increased services for immigrant seniors with Lower English Proficiency:
Immigrant seniors are in desperate need for an increase in social and health services. Immigrant seniors are some of the most isolated and overlooked members of our communities because of language and cultural barriers. We have to act urgently to help such a vulnerable section of our community – Dr. Kalasapudi