May 18, 2021
Seniors Experience Mental Stress Due to Closure of Chinese American Senior Centers
By: Diverse Elders

By Melody Cao, Sinovision.Net


Chinese video with English subtitles []

New York, NY — “The pandemic has lasted for so long. For the elderly and their families, there is a great mental stress.” Lina Chen, the head of the Happy House Adult Daycare Center in Brooklyn, expressed her worrisome of their senior members.

Lina, who has been engaged in community service work for a long time, started the Happy House Adult Daycare Center in 2012, providing living care and entertainment for Chinese American elderly living near U Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

“We had about 100 members at peak were here, there were about 100 members. Everyone is of Chinese descent from different countries. They speak different languages like Chinese, English, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and so on,” said  Chen.

She said the center not only provides lunches to the members or helps them deal with documents, it also arranges many activities regularly: “We have English class on Mondays; Zumba dance on Tuesdays; we sing folk songs on Wednesdays; Cantonese opera on Thursdays; and practice Tai Chi and Qigong on Fridays. There are also dance and qigong classes during the weekends.” The center also brought members out for field trips. Staff took many photos for the seniors and posted them on the walls.

When the pandemic started in March last year it changed the lives of all the elders and made the operation of the senior center severely difficult. “In the beginning, none of our staff were able to come to work.” Chen recalled that everyone was very nervous about COVID at that time.

Fortunately, she learned from the experience of people in mainland China deal with the pandemic. Chen said she prepared PPE in advance and also stocked a large amount of food. When the government announced the closure of many businesses, including senior centers and restaurants, the Happy House could still deliver meals to members in need.

The pandemic lasted longer than anyone expected. “This pandemic has brought a lot of mental pressure to the elderly and their families.” Chen said. When they delivered meals to the elderly they found that their members aged a lot because they are trapped at home and lacked exercise and communication.

“Some of the seniors who were on crutches are now in wheelchairs, and some are experiencing deteriorated motor functions in the legs. But more importantly, this is a very hard time for our members mentally,” she continued. “Our members used to come to the center regularly. There were friends, activities, and that provided mental support for them. Now they are counting their days. Some members will call the center more than a dozen times a day, asking when the center will open and when can they return to the original days,”  she said.

“We are now providing some remote services to our members, like calling them to play games to ease their anxiety,” Chen said.

She added that despite the difficulties, many elderly people still try to stay optimistic and maintain the pace of life. Both Mr. and Mrs. Oo are members of the center, and they live down the street less than five minutes away from the center. “I am very worried about the virus. I watch TV news every day. I want to protect myself and my family,” Mr. Oo said.

Mrs. Oo said that even though they could not go out, the couple tried their best to find the joy of life: “Cooking, cleaning, entertainment, my husband with me, we listen to music, watch movies, and exercise.”

Madam Gu, whose husband passed away about a year age miss the center even more: “I really like going to the center because there are many old friends and there are singing competitions. I always win the championship.”

Chen sighed, “In fact, we ourselves are counting the days, struggling to survive as well.” She said that since the beginning of the pandemic, the funds provided by insurance companies to the center have been reduced by 70%, and some insurance companies are not even willing to let the center provide Chinese meals for the elderly.

“Some companies have their own contracted food delivery agencies to deliver American food, but each culture has different eating habits. Many Chinese seniors are used to Chinese food, and they still want to eat Chinese food.”

Chen said the center received government subsidies for small businesses, but far from enough for running a big spacious place like Happy House adult daycare center. “I really hope the pandemic will be over soon.” she said.



Melody Cao reported this story for Sinovision Network with the support of a journalism fellowship sponsored  by The Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations and the Silver Century Foundation.


采访制作:曹旋律 Melody Cao


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.