Concern for elderly, disabled as temps drop
Long Island's elderly and disabled residents have no one to look in on them as temperatures dip to near freezing Saturday -- five days after Sandy struck.
There's no system in place to check on that vulnerable population -- and others who are isolated -- as they wait inside their homes for power and heat to return, state and local officials said.
"We do not currently have a system that would instruct people to go door to door," said Peter Constantakes, a state Health Department spokesman.
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Constantakes said those checks aren't his agency's responsibility, adding that the state isn't recommending that hard-pressed local municipalities do so either.
On Long Island, there are only scattershot plans to reach out to the elderly and frail, officials said Friday. Nassau and Suffolk officials are urging the elderly and frail to stay with family or friends or go to designated shelters.
Gwen O'Shea, spokeswoman for the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, an umbrella organization of social service groups, said some of those groups are attempting to check in on clients through phone calls and visits, though many people still can't be reached by phone.
She said that while some are looked in on by family, friends and neighbors, others are cut off from outside contact.
"Social isolation is more likely to happen in a suburban setting than in other areas," O'Shea said.
Some religious groups -- including a few from out of state -- might go door to door as temperatures drop, she said, but that effort would only reach a fraction of the Island's frail and isolated. Temperatures in some parts of Suffolk were forecast to sink to the high 20s tomorrow.
O'Shea said she will talk today with volunteers about coordinating a wider response, adding that a lack of transportation and electricity -- leaving some residents uninformed -- might keep them from accessing services.
Sam and Dotti Feldman of West Bay Shore, married 63 years, are bound for a six-month stay in Delray Beach, Fla., starting Nov. 14. But until then, they will have to endure a chill so punishing it could send Sam, 87, to the emergency room; he has poor circulation in his feet and hands.
"It takes its toll in pain," he said, hands trembling. "If it falls below freezing, it will get worse."
The Town of North Hempstead announced Friday it was opening comfort stations in three locations: the Aquatic Activity Center at Tully Park in New Hyde Park; the North Hempstead "Yes We Can" Community Center in Westbury; and The Clubhouse at Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington.
Residents can take a hot shower, charge electronic devices and access free Wi-Fi, but they can't stay overnight. The stations open Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and will operate indefinitely, town officials said.
Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone announced a partnership with area religious and social service organizations to offer facilities where residents can go for heat, including Central Presbyterian Church, Temple Beth El, St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church, Light of Salvation Church, Dix Hills Ice Rink and Huntington YMCA.
Joy Gilbert, 36, of Seaford, said she and her family are huddling together to stay warm at night, dressed in hats, gloves and winter coats. Their house was knocked off its foundation during the storm, and both their cars were destroyed. On Friday, the family was running out of options.
"This is the breaking point," she said, taking a few sandwiches from a Seaford feeding station to get her children -- ages 8, 10, 11 and 15 -- through the night. "We had a generator, but it's out of gas. And we have no cars to get gas."
At a news conference at the station, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she's working to have fliers with shelter locations distributed to all neighborhoods.
Maureen Fleming, of Commack, came to the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge with her elderly aunt, Geraldine Collins. Fleming said she's spent days looking for kerosene or a generator to no avail.
"You could end up with pneumonia if it keeps up too long," Collins said.
Marietta George, of Stony Brook, and her 84-year-old mother, Ann, also have been living without power.
"It's getting colder and colder," Ann George said, bundled in a hooded jacket as she waited to pick up free meals in Hauppauge. "It's becoming unbearable."
If power isn't restored soon, she may have to leave Long Island and stay with her son in Massachusetts. "I don't want to freeze to death," she said.
Southampton Hospital has gotten several calls from seniors seeking shelter because of the cold, said spokeswoman Pat Kiernan. The hospital referred them to the closest senior center.
Terry Lynam, spokesman for North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, said people are starting to come to emergency rooms at many of the systems' 16 hospitals with colds and other respiratory complaints associated with no heat in their homes.
"We're starting to feel effects of the cold, literally," he said.