DiNapoli scolds state agency overseeing services for seniors
ALBANY –The state Office for the Aging has failed to ensure low-income seniors get the services they need to remain in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic even though millions of dollars in funding for county-administered programs has gone unspent, according to a state audit.
The state agency helps some 51,000 elderly New Yorkers get access to home health aides, home-delivered meals, nutrition counseling and legal services, the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli reported.
But DiNapoli’s auditors said the Office for the Aging, as of July 31, had failed to distribute $5.9 million to county run agencies on aging, the organizations that frail, low-income adults need to maintain their independence at home.
“There are older New Yorkers waiting for services to help them remain independent and out of nursing homes, but the Office for the Aging isn’t doing enough to make sure the funding for those services is going out the door,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
Many of those seniors have faced pandemic-related isolation due to restrictions, he added. The seniors “deserve better,” DiNapoli said.
The comptroller determined the agency had not been tapping available money for “unmet needs” of seniors even though wait-list samples indicate the average time a person has to stay on waiting lists for services is 187 days. The audit noted that one senior was on a waiting list for more than five years for personal care assistance.
The report also scolded Office for the Aging officials for impeding the auditors’ ability to access data that was “essential” to the evaluation of the programs being scrutinized.
The agency challenged several of the audit’s conclusions. Its director, Greg Olsen, said that contrary to expectations, many seniors refused in-home services during the pandemic over fear of being exposed to the coronavirus from infected health aides.
Also defending the state agency was Becky Preve, executive director of the Association on Aging in New York, a group whose membership consists of 59 county offices on aging.
The local agencies that get funding from the state, Preve said, were severely hampered during the pandemic, as volunteers who deliver meals to seniors quit those roles. In some cases, local county supervisors took over those tasks.
“We saw almost 100% increase in the demand for our services,” Preve said, adding that the state auditors “didn’t really have a good handle on what actually happened in these communities.”
Preve said she is in frequent contact with the heads of the county agencies.
“I can tell you the lives of older people in New York state have been enhanced through these offices for the aging during the pandemic,” she said. “It’s the reason people got transportation, food and prescriptions delivered to their homes.”
Olsen, meanwhile, argued his agency has been transparent with documentation by providing it to legislative leaders in a timely way, a move that resulted in continued state funding for the unmet needs of seniors.
Olsen also explained his agency skipped doing audits of county-run services during the pandemic because of staff reductions at the county programs as new priorities emerged to correspond with the challenges that came from county staffers taking on additional duties.
The comptroller’s office urged the state Office for Aging to beef up the monitoring of the county aging services to ensure fiscal reviews are conducted and updated.