SNAP aces comptroller audit

By Philip Newman

City Comptroller William Thompson has accused the Department for the Aging of inadequately monitoring senior citizens centers, some of which he said had broken toilets. unsafe food preparation and questionable conditions in case of emergency.

A Queens Village senior center had a perfect score for the best showing in the city with all three that were inspected in the borough coming off better than most of the others audited in the report issued last Thursday.

“Simply stated, the Department for the Aging's lack of follow-up is putting seniors at risk for injury,” Thompson said. “It is mind-boggling that many of the hazardous conditions uncovered by my office were previously cited by DFTA's own annual assessments.”

“How can we trust DFTA to address the growing needs of seniors when it does not attend to basic safety and health requirements at locations currently under its purview?”

The Department for Aging contracts with 329 senior citizens centers citywide to provide services to the elderly.

Thompson sent auditors to 20 centers in the five boroughs, including three in Queens.

Inspectors who checked the SNAP Bell Park Center at 227-02 Hillside Ave. in Queens Village reported zero problems in all categories. It was the only center in New York City with a perfect mark.

At BFFY Richmond Hill Senior Center at 87-25 118th St. inspectors cited the lack of a record documenting training to use fire extinguishers and problems with cleanliness and maintenance of bathrooms.

The comptroller's office cited BFFY Delmonica Center at 23-56 Broadway in Astoria for non-working emergency lights, a posted emergency evacuation diagram that was judged to be too small to read, inadequate first aid training and problems with bathroom cleanliness and maintenance.

The audit found that 70 percent of the bathrooms in senior centers were unacceptable because of malfunctioning toilets and faucets, dirty conditions and the lack of either hot or cold water. Inspectors said the wall of one toilet stall gave way when a person leaned on it.

The report criticized what it said were passageways blocked by objects such as plastic bags and boxes, locked doors that would delay emergency evacuation and a lack of training in evacuation, periodic fire drills and first aid. It also reported that it found dirty kitchens at some centers.

Inspectors visited the centers between Oct. 3, 2007 and Feb. 15, 2008.

The Department for the Aging said it generally agreed with the findings and that most problems had been corrected. The agency said many of the centers had high employee turnover and since none owned their premises they had to depend on landlords, some uncooperative, for repairs and other matters.

It said paying for exterminators or plumbers was difficult since budgets at senior centers tended to be tight.

Edwin Mendez-Santiago, commissioner of the Department for the Aging, however, took exception to the report's questioning of the validity of documents on training of personnel in the use of fire extinguishers.

“We are not in the business of manufacturing documents,” Mendez-Santiago wrote.

DFTA contracts with 131 providers to operate 329 senior centers in the five boroughs. It is the responsibility of the non-profit sponsors to provide safe and well-maintained centers. DFTA routinely monitors how providers maintain conditions at their senior centers.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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