Montclair, NJ – Advocates for Montclair’s older adults are raising concerns that Montclair seniors are not getting the support they need from the Office of Senior Services.
According to Ann Lippel, president of Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place, services have not been consistent in the absence of a director of the Township’s Senior Services department. The current director has been out on an extended leave.
“Older citizens of our community have been calling the Division of Senior Services for months, leaving messages, and not getting call backs,” says Lippel. “With no one at the helm of the Division of Senior Services, targeted municipal communication that address the needs of seniors has dwindled out.”
Lippel says that at the very least, all these past month the Township Manager should have appointed an Interim Director of Senior Services. Lippel also questions whether the Township is spending a fair share of the budget on Senior Services, citing that the Senior Service budget in 2022 was less than 1% of $92 million in expenditures.
Some of the issues seniors needed assistance with according to Lippel include: questions about Township transportation services for seniors; inquiries about best practices during the heat advisory; how to obtain a social service referral for a friend, and even what can be done to improve conditions for seniors at Hawthorne Towers.
“We all firmly agree that Montclair seniors deserve and should expect local government to be responsive to their needs and concerns,” says Mayor Sean Spiller. “While any specific personnel matters can be discussed with the Township Manager, all services should be available now and if there are any matters that have come up or do come up in the future where there is an issue, the Township Manager should be alerted immediately, so he can address immediately.”
Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams, who is the official liaison to the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, says she has been making active inquiries with Township staff, including the Township Manager, as to whether staffing can be augmented during this period.
“I recognize the importance of our seniors to the Montclair community and want to ensure their health, social and quality of life needs are being addressed,” says Abrams.
Councilor at Large Bob Russo, who describes himself at age 74 and 22 years of service as “Senior Citizen” member of the Council, said he was concerned that the seniors raising issues with service have all resigned from the Town advisory committee which allowed them to have more input on these issues.
“I want them to return to serve on the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee so we can work together to resolve these concerns,” Russo said.
“The Council does not and cannot be involved, legally, in the day-to-day management of staff. We rely on the manager to communicate what he needs from us to fill a gap,” said Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis. “I imagine it’s difficult to plan temporary support if he doesn’t know how long temporary is. That all said, I’ve let him know that I stand ready to vote to allocate funding to support filling the service gap, however he sees fit.”
Katya Wowk, Township Communications Director, responding to our query to the Township Manager, said that the responsibilities of the Office of Senior Services have been and currently are seen to by several individuals, including the Acting Director of Health and Human Services Keith Costello, Senior Services Coordinator Michelle DeWitt, and Administrative Assistant Linda Tate. The latter two are employees in that Office.
“We have not changed our programs for seniors – that includes activities at Edgemont Park House, transportation services, online activities, senior health programs, and other initiatives for our seniors,” says Wowk. “The Department is receptive to all constituent concerns and will respond to any matters or questions our senior residents may raise.”
Should Montclair seniors have any questions or require assistance with our programs, they can call the following individuals who will best be able to address their needs:
Acting Director of Health and Human Services Keith Costello 973-509-4970
Senior Citizen’s Coordinator, Michelle DeWitt 973-744-3278
Administrative Assistant, Linda Tate 973-509-4974