WEST ORANGE, NJ – Older adult residents and West Orange Township Council members debated whether the recently completed West Orange senior citizen survey administered by Montclair State University (MSU) accurately reflects the needs of the township’s diverse senior population during Tuesday’s township council meeting.

Many of the seniors who attended the meeting expressed concern that the survey results do not reflect the reality of their lives.

“The senior survey was not geared for the disabled senior,” said resident Frank Grosso, who added that he is not among the 90 percent of seniors who indicated that they own a computer or have a family income exceeding $100,000 per year. Grosso said that he lives on a small fixed income.

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He also complained about the transportation options that are currently offered to disabled seniors.

“I have difficulty with the town bus because the lift for wheelchairs often doesn’t work when I call,” he said. “Recently, I’ve just stopped calling for transportation because it’s been so bad.”

Resident Patricia Sigalas added that there is a need for a centrally located senior citizen center so that people without cars can get there. Most of the seniors who took the survey indicated that they had cars, and that it was easy to get around the township.

Rosary Morelli also spoke on behalf of seniors who do not own cars, stating that the lack of transportation options stops many seniors in town from “getting the healthcare they deserve.” Morelli also expressed her belief that shorter senior surveys distributed in nearby municipalities have better reflected the needs of their senior constituents.

Mariel Clemenson expressed her feeling that “many seniors were left out of the survey,” which had fewer respondents who were male, black, disabled, and at the upper end of the senior age spectrum, she said.

At the March 27 council meeting, Erin Bunger, senior research associate for MSU’s Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services, reported that 753 seniors completed the West Orange survey. She said that this represents 6 percent of individuals over 55 years of age who currently reside in West Orange (approximately twice the original goal).

Councilwoman Michelle Casalino said that she was “shocked” that Morelli was touting shorter surveys when she requested even more questions for the lengthy West Orange one.

“I feel blind-sighted by her tonight,” said Casalino, who reiterated that the survey will be a helpful vehicle in obtaining more grant funds for senior services.

Councilman Victor Cirilo said the senior income figures were likely skewed because approximately 33 percent of people who responded to the survey did not want to share their income information. Casalino said that there was a “tremendous” response from senior homeowners, which she said most likely led to the higher income figures being reported.

Councilman Jerry Guarino said that one possibility to address the need cited by the survey for the township to better communicate with the senior population would be to do a weekly or bi-weekly senior citizen program on Channel 36.

“This way the information gets out there to seniors who don’t have or utilize computers, but do watch television,” said Guarino. “We should work with the board of education to get this done. I think the students would be interested in doing this type of program.”

Casalino agreed that this was an excellent idea, but said that grant funds are needed to put on a high-quality television program that will attract senior viewership on an ongoing basis.

Councilman Joe Krakoviak said that the concerns expressed by the seniors attending the meeting shows the need to reconsider the establishment of a Senior Citizen Advisory Board.

“We need a central point of focus to serve the needs of this demographic group,” said Krakoviak. “I would like to hear from the administration about what they think of the survey results, and what actions they are taking to address the needs of seniors in West Orange. They are the ones who oversee these services, and we should hear from them at a future council meeting.”

Council President Susan McCartney said that one idea she heard at a recent meeting was to ask people who have upgraded their computers to donate their old computers to local seniors.  She said school and government offices should consider doing the same thing so that seniors in town have better access to information.

Casalino urged seniors with computers to visit www.westorange.org to sign up for the senior e-blast and get the latest news on senior events.

The next council meeting will be held on April 24.

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