Seniors advocate at City Hall for increased services

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India Home joins the crowd for Advocacy Day!

South Asian seniors, such as the one’s we serve at India Home, are among the fastest growing groups of older adults in New York City.  For example, according to a report by the Center for an Urban Future, from 2000-2010, the number of Indian seniors in NYC grew by 135%. However, in a counterintuitive move,  city funding for senior services dropped by 20 percent, going from approximately $181 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to $145 million in Fiscal Year 2012.

Mayor De Blasio’s Executive Budget for 2018 adds no new funding to Department for the Aging (DFTA), which allocates money for senior services. DFTA receives less than ½ of 1% of the city budget – and less than 2% of all human services funding, even as the share of seniors in NYC has grown to 18% of the population. It has been widely documented that immigrant seniors also have unique needs. Many have Limited English Proficiency and large numbers live under the poverty line. For example, 27 percent of Bangladeshi seniors are below poverty, while the numbers for Indian seniors stand at 15 percent and Pakistani seniors at 22 percent.

As Bobbie Sackman, Associate Executive Director of Public Policy, LiveOn NY, said: “On behalf of the 300,000 older New Yorkers served by LiveOn NY’s members, we find it deeply disturbing that Mayor Bill de Blasio, once again, has refused to add any new money to fund vital services through the Department for the Aging (DFTA).”

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India Home’s seniors meet with CM Jimmy Van Bramer

Given the situation–growing numbers of seniors and a lack of funding–India Home’s seniors felt it was even more important this year to join advocates from LiveOn NY and other senior-serving organizations to make their case directly to elected Council Members.

About 10 seniors from our Sunnyside Center and Desi Senior Center participated in Advocacy Day organized by LiveOn NY at City Hall on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. The day started with a rally on the steps of the famous building, where seniors holding India Home banners chanted, “No seniors, no budget,” along with the crowd. The fact that the budget for DFTA hadn’t increased was highlighted by various Councilmembers who spoke at the rally.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bremer who’s District includes Sunnyside, where India Home runs a center on Mondays, said, that “every year should be the year of the senior,” not just 2017. Danny Dromm, Councilman for Jackson Heights, and a longtime supporter of India Home, reiterated that “we need to be sure that seniors get their fair share of the budget.”

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Councilman Danny Dromm speaks to the crowd on Advocacy Day 2017

Seniors and long time members of India Home’s Sunnyside Center, Usha Mehta, Bharat Patel, Dinesh Patel, Bharat Shah and Narendra Butala met with both CMs Van Bramar and Dromm and presented their demands for an additional day at the Sunnyside Center and better transportation. They urged the elected officials to approve India Home’s capital project citing the huge demand for India Home’s services and the lack of space that we are facing currently.

Seniors from India Home’s  Desi Senior Center in Jamaica,  Md. Abu Taher, Md. Mokbul Hossain, Mahbubul Latif and Mouirul Islam, met with CM Eric Ulrich’s office and CM Donovan Richards office. Desi Senior Center member, Md. Abu Taher spoke as a representative of all the seniors who couldn’t be there in person when he said: “We need more funds for Halal meals to give to people who cannot come to our center.We need more space; when we do exercise, it is very crowded.”

One of India Home’s stated missions is to create opportunities for seniors to lead and advocate for themselves. We were proud to see our members making their case with confidence with elected officials and their staff and their grasp of the important issues.

Advocacy Success: India Home’s seniors join letter-writing campaign to restore Title XX Funds

India Home's seniors joined a letter writing campaign to urge Governor Cuomo to restore TitleXX funds for senior center programs

India Home’s seniors joined a letter writing campaign to urge Governor Cuomo to restore TitleXX funds for senior center programs

Seniors from India Home joined LiveOnNY, a senior citizen advocacy group, in a campaign to urge Governor Cuomo to leave the funding for seniors in the New York State budget intact. The budget proposed a transfer of $17 million in Title XX Funds funds from senior citizens’ programs to child care initiatives around New York state.

The change, claimed alarmed advocates, would result in putting 65 senior centers in New York at risk of closing and deprive 6,000 older adults of a day at a local senior center.  “The senior center cuts would also equal the disappearance of 1.5 million meals and 24,000 hours of case assistance which help seniors with public benefits, housing concerns and other aid in their own language. Elderly immigrants will also lose a safe haven, where they can trust staff,” wrote Bobbie Sackman of LiveOnNY in an op-ed in NY Slant.

India Home’s older adults took enthusiastic part in this spirited advocacy campaign to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to restore the Title XX funds as members of New York’s only professionally-staffed centers for immigrant South Asian seniors. Our seniors wrote 40 letters that were delivered to Governor Cuomo in Albany.

In the end, the pressure from 17,500 letters from 141 senior centers, phone calls and strong, united efforts by senior citizen advocates at City Hall and Albany worked to effect change. Last week, Governor Coumo restored the $17 million in Title XX funds for senior citizen programs to the state budget.

 

 

In California or in New York–immigrant seniors have the same dreams and needs

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The Indian elders gathered around the seminar table in the conference room at Fremont City’s Human Services office were retired engineers and accountants. Many had spent over 20 years in America. Some lived with their children and some didn’t. All of them loved the wide roads in their county, the considerate drivers who drove the buses they took everywhere, and the bi-weekly gatherings at their senior center. They were opinionated, knowledgeable and enthusiastically shared their ideas.

The elders had been invited by Ms. Asha Chandra, Program Manager and Communications Specialist at the City of Fremont to participate in a focus group being held to understand the challenges and issues that Indian seniors face. Ms. Chandra planned to share the data gathered with Fremont’s decision makers and said she planned to hold many more of these focus groups with various immigrant populations as part of the effort to get Fremont included in the list of World Health Organizations Age-Friendly cities.

California’s Indian population climbed 68 percent to 528,000 people from 2000 to 2010, making it by far the largest Asian Indian community in the U.S. For instance, in Fremont, Indian Americans make up 10.15 percent of the overall population of 203,415. I happened to be in California and was interested in learning how the state was dealing with this large and growing population of immigrants–especially its Indian senior citizens.

The focus group in Fremont was led by Mr. Krishnaswamy Narasimhan, a trained Community Ambassador with the city of Fremont and the Secretary of the Indo-American Seniors Association Fremont (INSAF). The Community Ambassador Program for Seniors (CAPS) is the City of Fremont’s award winning, nationally recognized effort that trains volunteer ambassadors to serve seniors in “their own communities, in their own language, within their own cultural norms, and does so where seniors live, worship, and socialize. ” Community Ambassadors like Mr. Narasimhan serve as a bridge between the formal social services agencies and their respective faith and cultural communities, like temples, gurdwaras and other places, and help seniors to locate senior services and programs in the City of Fremont.

An ideal for aging?

The focus group was also a visioning project–the elders in the room were asked to imagine an ideal scenario in three IMG_0963major areas: transportation; social participation and inclusion; and dementia support. It turned out their dreams were modest and easily attainable-the elders wanted a better transportation system like a shuttle service that took them to senior centers and other places where seniors congregate, more frequent stops, better paratransit options. They had the same challenges that our seniors face in New York–lack of good, frequent transportation or parking spaces, accessibility and problems with notification. When it came to social participation and inclusion, the seniors wished they had a bigger community center that brought together different activities under one roof. What surprised me, though, was the equivocal desire many of them expressed for opportunities to meet with other immigrant communities and experience their cultures. Their desire to “assimilate” with different cultures was strong, as was their need for activities where they could share their unique skill sets with others. Again, their challenges were similar to ones elders at India Home face–difficulties with language access, lack of awareness about local resources, a need for more social and intergenerational interaction, and more support from volunteers, especially to care givers of dementia patients.

Benefits of including immigrant elders

I came away from the focus group session thinking about the many challenges our fast-greying American cities face and all that remains to be done to solve these problems. By 2050 nearly one in five Americans (19%) will be an immigrant. By 2025, the immigrant, or foreign-born, share of the population will surpass the peak during the last great wave of immigration a century ago. As these diverse communities age we will need local, state and federal agencies to step up to meet their needs. Asking immigrant participants for their input and including them in the process as these cities plan for an age-friendly future is an important, necessary step and one I wish more cities would emulate. 

India Home Partners with Con Edison for the Advocacy Today Conference

NYC Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steve Banks gives the Keynote Address at Con Edison’s Advocacy Today conference on October 7, 2016. India Home was on the Steering Committee and was a partner at the conference.

On October 7th, ConEdison held the Advocacy Today: Language, Literacy and Culture conference. India Home was invited to be on the Steering Committee and was one of Con Edison’s partners, along with Department for the Aging (DFTA), Live On NY, and New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) among others. The conference aimed to engage, inform and highlight services and resources access available to low-to-moderate Income and immigrant New Yorkers. India Home provided valuable inputs on engaging with immigrant seniors. In his keynote address, the NYC HRA Commissioner Steve Banks discussed how his department was working with other agencies and community partners to provide services for low-to-moderate income, immigrant New Yorkers, as well as homeless veterans. Caryn Resnick, Deputy Commissioner of DTFA, spoke about the different ways DFTA is working to combat poverty among immigrant seniors in New York.

Nearly 100 participants from various service providers across the city came to attend the conference. As a part of a team building exercise, tables were given various scenarios occurring in immigrant and/or low-income communities to see how they would solve the situations. It was a great venue to network with people who have similar concerns for immigrants and low-income New Yorkers.

India Home wins the 2016 Local Community Action Leadership Award from NYU CSAAH and AARP

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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. 

 

Our Executive Director at DFTA’s “End Ageism Now” Initiative and Asian American Mental Health Roundtable

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.

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.

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The first Asian American Mental Health Round Table convened by the Asian American Federation

India Home presents study on Indian seniors at the AAPI Annual Convention

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India Home’s Executive Director, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, along with Dr. Swapna Dontinneni, Dr. Pratik Jain and Ms.Vani Tirumal presented a study on Attitudes to American Health Care among Elderly South Asians  at the 34th Annual AAPI Convention.

AAPI or the Association of Indian Physicians, is the largest non-profit ethnic medical organization in the United States. It stands for over 60,000 practicing doctors and 20,000 students and residents of Indian origin. Every year doctors and healthcare professionals come together for an annual convention in a major American city. They meet to talk about medical advances, health policy, participate in presentations and exhibits that highlight the newest advances in caring for patients, and medical technology. This year, India Home’s  Executive Director, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, MD, attended the convention in New York city in her capacity as a practicing geriatric psychologist. Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, Dr. Swapna Dontinneni, MD, Dr. Pratik Jain, MD and Vani Tirumala made a presentation about Attitudes to American Health Care among Elderly South Asians using their research conducted with participants from India Home’s Sunnyside Center and Services Now for Adult Persons Center. Most of the doctors leading the 2010 study were from Brown University.

Some of the key findings were that elderly South Asians relied on non-allopathic forms of medicine such as homeopathy, Ayurveda and herbal home remedies as a first line of defense. When they used allopathic medicine it was a second choice, and very few believed that it was important to have a primary care physician.

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The Poster for the study

Barriers to healthcare

Interestingly, the study* also found  the barriers to healthcare were the burden of paperwork, discrimination, communication (lack of English access) and affordability.  With this study, the doctors made an important contribution to the growing body of knowledge about South Asian seniors and their attitudes toward American health care.

* Please enlarge image of poster for references

India Home meets with Comptroller Stringer

As a part of the Asian American & Pacific Islander celebration on Tuesday May 24th, India Home met with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. At the roundtable of Indian American leaders in New York City, the comptroller explained the duties of his office and expressed his willingness to work with the community.

India Home’s Lakshman Kalasapudi was there and discussed a number of pressing issues for South Asian seniors and direct service organizations:

  1. Small organizations such as India Home need timely reimbursement of their government contracts. As we are required to submit our invoices to our contracting agency (Department for the Aging) by the 15th, we expect a timely reimbursement of funds. Currently, there is no deadline for many city agencies to reimburse their vendors or contractors.
  2. The comptroller’s focus on Minority/Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) is commendable. The comptroller stated he is committed to increasing the number of contracts and the amounts of those contracts to MWBE. As community-based organizations (CBOs) led by immigrant women of color, India Home and its partners (e.g. Sakhi, Sapna NYC, SAYA and more) receive very little government contracts and those we do are not in the Mayor’s baseline budget. We asked the comptroller to show the same commitment to Minority and Women-led CBOs.
  3. Housing is a huge need for South Asian seniors. Many of our members are looking for affordable options to live full and independent lives. However, small, growing organizations such as India Home need support to fulfill these needs. We requested the comptroller to look into capacity building opportunities and coaching for small organizations so we can better serve our communities with capital projects.

 

Comptroller Stringer addressing Indian American community leaders

Comptroller Stringer addressing Indian American community leaders

Giving testimony: Or why our hands-on experience with immigrant seniors is so valuable

India Home is on the ground every program day dealing with the unique concerns of our community of immigrant seniors. We know their needs. We understand their anxieties. We speak their language and our seniors talk to us. We know the trouble our seniors have with the lack of good transportation options or the difficulties they have accessing case management services that are culturally appropriate (that understand South Asian cultures) and linguistically appropriate (that communicate in a South Asian language our seniors understand). This is why India Home makes it a point to testify and advocate for our immigrant seniors at various committee meetings with NY city’s council members and departments.

420-seniors-bus-stop-transportation-guide.imgcache.rev1309282307387.webOn February 26, we testified at a joint session of the Committee on Aging and Committee on Immigration on Serving Immigrant Seniors through NORCs. NORC is an acronym for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. Neighborhood NORCs provide a variety of supportive services to seniors, like case assistance, health care assistance, education, volunteering opportunities and so on. However, many immigrants, like our members, don’t feel comfortable attending existing NORCs because they are not culturally relevant or don’t have staff that speak their language.
India Home assured Committee Chairs, Margaret Chin and Carlos Menchacha, that given our cultural competencies and the fact that we have staff that speak several South Asian languages, we were well-equipped to provide services to NORC’s and neighborhood NORC’s.

At the Preliminary Budget Hearing for Fiscal Year 2017 on March 3rd, we met with the Committee on Aging and Sub-committee on Senior Centers, including Council Members Paul Vallone and Margaret Chin. This time we testified about the issues seniors have with transportation and lack of social workers.

Our seniors in Eastern Queens have trouble getting public transportation to come to the centers. India Home had a bus, but the costs of operating it were so high, we couldn’t keep the service going. Even those who do use services like Access-A-Ride, have to deal with the long waits and sudden cancelations. Council Member Paul Vallone offered to work with us on the transportation issue.

Advocacy Day at City Hall

For us at India Home, March has been a month for advocacy on behalf of our seniors. Dr. K and Meera from India Home went back at City Hall on March 9th to advocate for more funding for Asian Americans (yes, we fall under that umbrella). The advocacy day was organized by the Coalition for Asian American Children & Families (CACF).

India Home represents South Asian seniors to demand more government funding for Asian-serving organizations.

India Home represents South Asian seniors at City Hall to demand more government funding for Asian-serving organizations. (From left to right: Council Members, Peter Vallone, Peter Koo, Margaret Chin, Barry Grodenchik and Danny Dromm)

The need is great — Asian Americans are more 15% of New York City’s population (and growing!), but only get about 3% of the city funding. So India Home stood on the steps of City Hall with 150 community members and 45 other Asian American sister organizations to ask for a more equitable distribution of funds. It was a busy day with one on one meetings with several Council Members where we got a chance to talk about our organization and our members needs. We met with CM Daneek Miller and representatives from Julissa Ferraras’s office. We spoke about who we serve and what our seniors need- like translation services and more transportation among other things.