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Dangerous and filthy senior centers - Audit reveals devastating conditions; comptroller says elderly are at risk

Lack of city oversight has rendered some senior centers not only shamefully filthy, but also dangerous, an audit revealed last week.

Dirty bathrooms, inoperable smoke detectors and blocked exits are just a few of the disturbing conditions found at 20 facilities randomly selected from the city’s stable of 329, according to Comptroller William Thompson.

Thompson blasted the city’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) for not monitoring the condition of its senior centers.

“Simply stated, DFTA’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 in its own annual assessments,” he continued. “We were provided with little evidence of any efforts on its part to work with center management and landlords to correct these problems.”

Five Brooklyn centers were included in the random sampling, including: Swinging Sixties Senior Center, 211 Ainslie Street; Atlantic Senior Center, 70 Pennsylvania Ave.; Roundtable Senior Center, 1175 Gates Ave; Wayside Boulevard Senior Center, 726 Stanley Ave.; and Young Israel of Midwood Senior Center, 1694 Ocean Avenue.

Bathroom cleanliness and general maintenance problems were found in four of the five, with Wayside Boulevard being the exception, according to the audit.

The emergency lights at all, save for Wayside Boulevard, did not work. Blocked exits were found at Atlantic, and locked exits were found at Swinging Sixties, the audit stated.

Exit signs were not illuminated at Atlantic and Roundtable, according to the audit.

Wayside Boulevard’s stove and refrigerator/freezer were found to be dirty, auditors found.

In a statement, DFTA said it would continue to work closely with “community providers who are responsible for managing the day-to-day operations to ensure that facility-related issues are corrected in a timely basis.”

DFTA funds and administers a wide range of services for the elderly directly, as well as through contracts with community-based organizations. The agency contracts with 329 senior citizen centers throughout the city — costing taxpayers $94 million last year.

Thompson said he had grave concerns about the agency’s ability to govern the centers.

“As the city moves forward with plans to fundamentally restructure senior centers and services, we must ask the question: 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?” he said.

Visits to the centers were conducted between October 3, 2007 and February 15, 2008. Auditors found evidence that the maintenance of many centers’ safety, cleanliness and physical conditions were in need of improvement.

The audit found fire and personal-safety problems at 12 of 20 (60 percent) of centers that would significantly impede a senior’s ability to safely exit in case of an emergency.

Fourteen of 20 centers (70 percent) had hazardous conditions in the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Examples of these dangers include: damaged or missing tiles, peeling paint, rust and mildew on the sides of the stalls, floors, and ceilings; dirty toilets and floors; and toilets, urinals, and sinks not working properly, the audit stated.

The audit also found that nine of 20 centers had cleanliness and other deficiencies in kitchens, and that seven of 20 center directors interviewed during the course of the audit complained that landlords and building managers would not be willing to pay for exterminators.

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