Guest Column: We must advocate for senior residents

While your 50+ magazine is a great resource for older residents, there are a couple of errors that, indirectly, shed light on a serious problem: the lack of affordable housing for low-income seniors and disabled people needing supervision.

Under the category “Residential Care Facility” there were three errors. First, the Peconic Retreat “assisted living facility” in Cutchogue has been shuttered for just about two years now. Second, the Acadia Center, formerly the Riverhead Nursing Home is not a senior residence but a rehab/nursing facility. San Simeon on the Sound is a rehab/nursing home facility, not a home for seniors, or an adult home. These are facilities for people with serious medical conditions and those needing temporary rehab. Nursing homes and rehabilitation institutions should not be confused with senior residences.

Peconic Landing is the only senior residence offering assistance and supervision in the Town of Southold, and it is prohibitively expensive, beyond the reach of most residents of the area.

In Southold, as well as Riverhead, there are absolutely no affordable senior residences/adult homes/old age homes. The few that once existed, such as Oysterponds and the old Blaschack Adult Home, which became the Peconic Retreat, are long gone. The 1973 directory listed over 35 rest homes and adult homes in Suffolk County, including one even on Shelter Island. On the North Shore of Long Island there is one adult home left, about 40 miles east. In Nassau County there is not one affordable adult home left. In Suffolk County there are a handful of rest homes and adult homes, but only a few accept Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, as total payment.

While a plethora of extremely expensive assisted living facilities have opened the last 20 years, affordable senior homes are falling completely by the wayside. When I asked someone at Family Services League why there are no such facilities in Southold and Riverhead, and why they are disappearing, she said that the reimbursement rate was too low for the operators to remain in business. She added that the State was aware of this, but has not done anything to address this situation. In fact, the State has been instrumental in shuttering most of these facilities.

Unless I am wrong, this is a serious problem. The cost to residents of these low-end adult homes runs $1,261 a month, which is partially subsidized by the state and the residents’ own SSI. They provide totally supervised environments, including the administration of medications. I wonder how local, low-income residents of the North Fork who need around-the-clock assistance, yet do not qualify for nursing homes or even Medicaid-reimbursed assisted living facilities, are able to get by on their own. According to the website, the cost for home care in New York averages about $5,280 a month, over four times more expensive than adult homes, and not covered by the state Supplementary Security Program. And that’s for those fortunate enough to have an apartment or home of their own.

This state of affairs, I believe, is a disgrace, and partially precipitated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policies — unless I am wrong and there is no need for supervised affordable adult homes, senior residences, or old age homes, or whatever you want to call them. Yet no one seems to be advocating for this kind of housing. Maureen’s Haven and “Rockin’ for the Homeless” and all that do not offer long-term housing options for low income seniors or those with disabilities. There are specific Office of Mental Health and Disability Determination Services agencies that are subcontracted with the State, at reimbursement rates four and five times higher than traditional adult homes, for those with certain disabilities, but the admission process is lengthy, and they cater to a younger population. Many homeless seniors end up in county subsidized shelters and nursing homes or wallow in hospitals, all expensive and inappropriate, because of the lack of affordable senior residential care.

Is anybody aware of this? Does anyone care?

The author lives in Southold. He is the owner/operator and administrator of the Echo Arms Adult Home in Port Jefferson Station.