On Monday, February 2, the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNS) took over the responsibility of feeding 5,000 homebound Queens residents enrolled in the Meals-On-Wheels program.
The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) awarded VNS the contract to consolidate the efforts of smaller providers into one main provider in order to improve efficiency. But up to this point, the transition has brought the Meals-On-Wheels program to a screeching halt for some.
The wide range of complaints from clients started pouring in almost immediately. They complained of no meals, mix-ups in the hot and cold meal orders, not getting kosher meals, and receiving lunches as early as 9 a.m. or as late as 7 p.m.
Then there are the more bizarre cases in which clients that have terminated service, as well as the families of deceased clients, have received meals.
“The two family members of a deceased parent that got a meal were very upset,” Case Manager Blanca Goris recalled. “It brought back bad memories.”
Seniors not receiving meals during this transition have been forced to find an alternative meal source, which comes at a price to those dependent on the program.
Both the Senior Case Management Services and DFTA agreed there would be kinks during the transition, which they were attempting to prepare for. The Friday before the transition, three “shelf stable” meals of canned tuna and salmon were provided to each client by DFTA.
“The box that they sent before all of this, supposedly to help us eat for three days, was absolutely ridiculous,” Rubin said.
As the week progressed without adequate food service, Goris, in conjunction with former meal provider Naomi Altman, associate assistant director of Senior Services at the Queens Community House in Forest Hills, sprung into action.
“We had a pretty clear vision that there were somewhere in the range of 125 folks who we knew of that had not received a meal,” Altman explained.
On Friday many of the laid-off staff happily returned in order to prepare and deliver meals. DFTA spokesman Chris Miller said that “most of the problems have been resolved,” even as the Queens Community House continued delivering meals two weeks after being terminated.
Goris believes DFTA and the VNS did not properly prepare for the transition. She expressed her concerns at a meeting in January, which she says were addressed with “beautiful answers,” which when put into practice failed. Miller of the DFTA stressed, “We are tracking all the calls, and we are doing our best to ensure that seniors have meals.”
VNS refused to comment on the situation.
Councilwoman Melinda Katz responded to the crisis by sending a letter to DFTA Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli.
“It’s time that we pull this whole proposal back,” Katz wrote. “To think that a central system delivering food to everyone when there are so many different requirements citywide, I think is not going to work.”
According to DFTA, what this transition represents is their attempt to prepare for a surge in the number of seniors, which is anticipated to grow by 46 percent by 2030.
“The main thing,” Rubin said “is that the Visiting Nurse Service either shape up, or get out.”