New tricks

Senior health fair has information, services, and…singing dog?

More than a dozen different service providers and vendors gathered at the Edward A. Lawler Towers building on Grand Avenue for the North Bergen Housing Authority’s (NBHA) third annual Senior’s Health Fair.
Residents from the four senior buildings in town attended for various types of health checks and to learn about some the options available to them, including eye and dental care, chiropractic and pharmacy services, and hospice and homemaker aid.
“It’s good to know,” said Charles Holmquist. “I live right next door so I come and check it out.” A former sanitation driver who has lived his whole life in North Bergen, Holmquist has been a Lawler resident for 10 years.
The Health Fair was established by the Social Services Department of the NBHA. Three full time employees provide services to the seniors: Kathryn Paletta, Darra Earl, and Brenda Rodriguez.
“The social service department here at North Bergen Housing is only about four years old,” explained Paletta. “Not a lot of senior buildings have a department just for social services that provides for the seniors. It really took off and we supply them with county and federal programs that they didn’t know about. A lot of people didn’t think they qualified for food stamps and they did. We deal with citizenship, past due bills, any kind of problems.”
“Seniors get bombarded with papers,” added Earl. “And they don’t always know how to deal with them. We’re a bilingual department. It’s a great service that the North Bergen township and housing authority provide to seniors.”

“The focus is on letting the people know what services are out there.” – Gerald Sanzari
“The three people assigned to the department are kept busy all the time,” said NBHA Executive Director Gerald Sanzari. “A lot of seniors need help applying for Medicare and their Supplemental [Security Income] and food stamps. Whatever services they need, they get help. For example, one senior needed a new wheelchair. Kathy worked really hard calling different agencies and finally she was able to get one who provided it.”

‘We love it here’

Seniors filtered in and out of the building throughout the morning and early afternoon, getting their eyes and blood pressure checked, receiving back and neck massages, talking to vendors about hearing aids and insurance options.
And they had fun. The department provided free cake, which was eagerly devoured by 2-year-old Alianny Pena, attending with her great-grandma, Maria Quintanilla.
Nearby, Albertina Vega banged out a few musical notes on a portable keyboard while her dog, Carido Vega, sang – okay, howled – along in accompaniment.
“We love it here,” said Florence Lawane, born and raised in North Bergen, and a Lawler resident for 29 years.
“We have beautiful apartments,” agreed her friend, Prudence Siano. “We could never go out and pay the rent they want out there. What we pay is nothing.” A former Union City resident, Siano has lived in Lawler for 24 years.
Mayor Nicholas Sacco visited the Health Fair in the morning, meeting with those in attendance. “He’s a nice guy, a good guy,” said Siano. “What he does for us, not many other mayors would do. In the summer each weekend they’re going somewhere. And we don’t pay for that. They just take you. No other town around here has that. None.”
“Mayor Sacco has the best program for the seniors. He wines them, he dines them,” said Dr. Gerard Busacco, a specialist in sports medicine and rehabilitation who provided services at the health fair. A regular at the senior buildings, he visits once a week on Thursdays to offer free treatments. “Whatever they need, I do. Sometimes I adjust them. I do nutrition, exercise, whatever they need holistically.”
Earl elaborated on some of the other services available to seniors. “They have parties. They have free movies. Buses come up right in front of their door to go shopping. There are services that they would be lost without. That’s why they’re so happy.”

More seminars coming

Gerald Sanzari has been executive director of the NBHA since April 1. A former deputy police chief in North Bergen, he retired after 26 years.
“I find a lot of parallels because as an executive in the police department I was dealing with problems all the time,” he said. “And here you’re dealing with problems, just on a different level.”
Sanzari oversees about 1,000 apartments housing seniors and low income residents in town, as well as the Section 8 program. Senior housing consists of four buildings, between 15 and 48 years old.
“The fourth building is not part of the subsidized housing,” he said. “It’s privately owned and it’s a complicated formula but they rent out to lower income people based on tax credits that they get from the government. In about a year we’re refinancing. [The NBHA is] going to buy the building. We’re going to keep it as a low income building.”
Since becoming executive director, Sanzari has opened a community garden and a dog run, planted trees and put in benches in some of the developments. He is working on addressing parking issues, which are always a headache in the area, and adding handicap spots.
“He wants to have more seminars, training coming in to assist the seniors with information on medicine, aging, all different topics,” said Paletta.
“These agencies often are very eager to get their message out so they love to participate in these type of events,” said Sanzari about the participants in the Health Fair. “It took Kathy a lot of time, several months of planning, to go around to all of the different agencies. They all volunteer and most of them have giveaways that they hand out. And the focus is on letting the people know what services are out there.”
Vendors and providers attending the event included Amedisys, Dr. Gerard Busacco, CarePoint Health, Commission for the Blind’s Project Best, Communitiy Outreach Center for Vein Testing, Concentra Medical Center, Jerry’s Drug and Surgical Supply, Liberty Hearing Aids (Sam’s Club), Lutheran Life Adult Day Center, NJCU Office of Aging, NJ Shares Organ Donation Organization, North Hudson Community Action Corporation, Pro Medquip, Rise & Shine Adult Day Care Center, and the Visiting Homemaker Service of Hudson County.
And Carido Vega, the singing dog.

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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