When Norma Mims first retired, she said she couldn’t wait to become a member of the senior center.

In fact, before the pandemic, the 89-year-old would frequently make her way across Brooklyn from Canarsie to Williamsburg, just to see her friends at the Borinquen Plaza Senior Center.

But for more than a year, Mims and thousands of other seniors in Brooklyn have been unable to go to the centers due to their closure amid the pandemic.

Now, as more get vaccinated, Mims and others say they need to go back, and hope the city will consider reopening the centers soon.

More seniors are getting vaccinated. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

“I want to go back so bad because I’ve been in the house so long, and I miss my friends,” Mims said. “I’ve been crying a lot of days, I need the senior center.”

She said the center was like a second home to her: she loves the food, the company, and of course the bingo.

“Sometimes I don’t want to go home,” she said. “I would love to go back as soon as possible.”

Mims voice joins a chorus of senior service providers who say Brooklyn’s older generation is suffering mentally and physically as a result of senior centers being closed too long, without a plan to reopen.

Pressure on the city

Organizations like Riseboro Community Partnership are demanding the city immediately put a plan in place to reopen the senior centers.

Speaking with BK Reader Thursday, Riseboro CEO Scott Short slammed the city as “negligent” in its approach to reopening the centers. He said he saw delays to reopening the centers as a lazy excuse to save money.

“We’ve seen in our work with seniors that social isolation is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a senior,” he said. “It affects their physical health and shortens life expectancy.”

Photo: Scott Short, CEO of RiseBoro Community Partnerships

RiseBoro provides services for seniors throughout Brooklyn, and said it has put senior socialization at top of mind during the pandemic. When senior centers closed, Riseboro pivoted to online services which reached more than 5,000 seniors, it said.

Despite this online connection, many older people had still been basically isolated for more than a year now.

“A lot of these seniors have been alone,” Short said. “It’s unconscionable that they haven’t brought [senior centers] back.”

He said almost 65% of people in the city ages 65 to 74 were fully vaccinated, and there were ways to open certain centers safely, if NYC’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) would only talk with providers about it.

DFTA Wants More Vaccinations Before Reopening

DFTA funds nearly 250 senior centers through community partnerships across the city. The centers closed due to the pandemic in about mid-March 2020.

After mounting pressure from senior service providers, the department held a meeting Thursday with providers, Riseboro said.

In the meeting, Riseboro said the city was encouraging a vaccine push for both staff and members, hoping to get 70% of staff vaccinated before July 1 with a goal to reopen on that date.

One Community vaccination pop-up at Ingersoll Houses. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

However, when reached for comment, DFTA said it did not have plans to reopen July 1, stating this information was incorrect. It did not provide any date for reopening senior centers.

“No one wants to see senior centers reopened more than we do, but the safety and health of older New Yorkers must always come first,” a DFTA spokesperson said.

“While some seniors have received the vaccine, 40% of older New Yorkers ages 75-84 have not been fully vaccinated. We will continue to follow the science and work with public health officials to chart a path forward to fully reopening senior centers in a phased approach and safe manner.”

Meanwhile, the reopening of the centers was just one part of what could be a looming mental health crisis for seniors, Short said.

“I think it’s going to be one of the longest tails of pandemic we haven’t fully come to grips with yet,” he said. “I think there needs to be a lot more thought and discussion and research done on how this has affected seniors.”

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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