The objective of this audit was to determine whether the Department for the Aging (DFTA) adequately monitors the senior centers with which it contracts to ensure that they are in a safe and clean condition in accordance with DFTA’s procedures and guidelines.

DFTA is responsible for planning, administering and coordinating the provision of services designed to help many of New York City’s (the City’s) senior citizens maintain their independence and participate in their communities.  DFTA provides services to seniors directly and through contracts with community-based organizations.  In connection with its oversight of contracted service providers, DFTA’s Bureau of Community Services unit conducts both announced and unannounced formal assessments four times each fiscal year of each DFTA-contracted senior center through inspections by program officers and nutritionists[1].   At the conclusion of each assessment visit, DFTA issues an Assessment Report to the center’s director, detailing the results of the visit and, if applicable, the deficiencies that the center is required to rectify.

During Fiscal Year 2016, DFTA contracted with 249 senior centers and, among many other services, provided 7.6 million meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) to clients at those senior centers.  During that same period, DFTA employed 16 program officers and 10 nutritionists to oversee the senior centers.

Audit Findings and Conclusions

DFTA’s monitoring of its contracted senior centers needs to be improved.  Although DFTA has standards, procedures, and personnel in place to monitor the approximately 250 senior centers, during our audit scope, it did not adequately track identified deficiencies found in the centers or the implementation of corrective action plans established to remediate them.  Those oversight failures result, in part, from a lack of continuity in DFTA’s monitoring efforts from year to year.  Based on the findings of this and previous audits, it appears that DFTA’s monitoring shortcomings have allowed some City-funded senior centers to operate with chronic unaddressed deficiencies[2].  The failure to adequately address longstanding problems may have been exacerbated by the absence of established standards to guide DFTA staff on whether, when, and how they should assist senior centers to improve their conditions and operations.  Such standards might include guidance on how DFTA staff could assist the senior centers in their interactions with other City agencies to help facilitate their obtaining permits, inspections, and in some cases—specifically with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)—basic maintenance.  The current absence of such standards and guidance is of particular concern given the degree of problems we observed in conditions at senior centers located in NYCHA developments and with the lack of required permits from City agencies.

Further, we found that DFTA has not established performance or productivity benchmarks for its staff, some of whom expressed concerns to auditors about their workload levels.  Finally, DFTA lacks an effective complaint tracking system that would assist management in identifying problem areas needing corrective action.

Audit Recommendations

To address the issues raised by this audit, we make 10 recommendations, including the following:

  • DFTA should establish an effective information system that tracks all serious deficiencies and recurring problems found at each senior center until they are resolved.
  • DFTA should work with NYCHA officials to enhance communication and coordination of efforts regarding the deficiencies and required repairs at senior centers located in NYCHA facilities.
  • DFTA should create policies and procedures for its program officers, nutritionists, and other relevant agency personnel in sufficient detail–and with a resource guide and examples where warranted–to ensure that DFTA staff are aware of the kinds of assistance they should provide to centers to help facilitate their interactions with City agencies and third parties, and to achieve compliance with DFTA’s standards for the safe conditions and effective operation of senior centers.
  • DFTA should conduct a study to determine the adequacy of its staffing and structure in relation to the number of senior centers it oversees, and whether its current staffing levels are adequate to ensure thorough assessments, monitoring, follow-up, and assistance to senior centers.
  • DFTA should maintain a record of all complaints it receives pertaining to the senior centers so that it can track and monitor the resolution of the complaints and identify any specific areas that require additional attention.

Agency Response

In its response, DFTA generally agreed with the audit’s 10 recommendations.

[1] Program officers and nutritionists are each required under DFTA guidelines to conduct one announced and one unannounced visit per fiscal year, for a total of four visits by DFTA personnel to each center.  The City’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.  For example, Fiscal Year 2016 began on July 1, 2015.

[2] Our office has previously issued four audit reports that address the weaknesses of DFTA’s monitoring of senior centers : (1) Audit Report on the Monitoring of Senior Center Conditions by the Department for the Aging, (# MG01-194A), Issued June 28, 2002; (2) Follow-up Audit Report on the Monitoring of Senior Center Conditions by the Department for the Aging, (#MG05-093F), Issued June 17, 2005; (3) Audit Report on the Monitoring of the Physical Conditions of Senior Citizen Centers by the Department for the Aging, (#MD08-063A), Issued June 30, 2008; and (4) Audit Report on the Department for the Aging’s Monitoring of Senior Centers,(# FM13-056A ), Issued August 2, 2013.