For New Widow, ‘Horrible Days.’ Then More Help Arrived.

In April, the loss of Mayya Gil’s husband was compounded by concerns for meeting her basic needs. Many older New Yorkers are struggling as the pandemic continues.


for the New York Times
text by Masha Goncharova
Published on October 8, 2020

Weeks after the coronavirus lockdown began in New York, Mayya Gil, 91, found her husband on the kitchen floor of their apartment.

Weak with a fever, he had fallen, the first sign of his Covid-19 infection.
For the first 10 days, Ms. Gil cared for her husband, Vilyam, at home with the help of an aide. Then, on April 20, he was taken to New York Community Hospital in Brooklyn, where he spent his last two days.

“They wouldn’t let me see him, and he was too weak to say anything on the phone,” Ms. Gil recalled in Russian during a recent interview. After 68 years together, she said, “we couldn’t say goodbye.”

Ms. Gil met her husband in Kyiv, Ukraine. She, her mother and her brother fled there when she was 12 and their hometown, Khmelnytskyi, was invaded by Nazis. She eventually married Mr. Gil. “We were like one person,” she said.

They moved to New York in 1992, following their twin daughters.

After Mr. Gil died, three people accompanied Ms. Gil to the interment at United Hebrew Cemetery on Staten Island: her daughter, a granddaughter and the couple’s home health aide.

The aide was an employee at the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation of New York, when she began working for the Gils in 2010. Since then, Ms. Gil said, she has become “like another daughter” to them.

In 2013, the Gils suffered a painful loss when one of their twins, Larisa Vaynberg, died at age 58. They could not afford a gravestone, and they received help from The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, which supports UJA-Federation.

This year, Ms. Gil needed help again. After Mr. Gil’s death, her health insurance provider reduced the assistance she received from her home health aide to four and half hours per day, from nine.
With her surviving daughter retired and unable to help Ms. Gil financially, or to visit frequently because of concerns about the virus, Ms. Gil, who lives in a subsidized apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, was struggling.

“In those horrible days right after Vilyam died and everyone was so scared with Covid, that’s when I needed her help the most,” Ms. Gil said.

In April, the Marks J.C.H. used $1,200 from The Fund to provide Ms. Gil with nine hours of assistance per day from her aide for one month after Mr. Gil’s death. Ms. Gil’s case manager also helped renegotiate her insurance plan to provide the aide’s services for seven and a half hours per day.
Ms. Gil was also overwhelmed with meeting basic needs for herself. She did not want to risk infection to get groceries, and she knew online shopping was expensive. In July, when caseworkers became aware of Ms. Gil’s financial situation, she received an additional $200 from The Fund for groceries.

Her case manager then helped advocate, getting Ms. Gil $194 in monthly benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. She also receives $870 a month in Supplemental Security Income.

Ms. Gil is one of thousands of older New Yorkers whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus.

Eight out of every 10 Covid-19 deaths reported in the United States are among adults age 65 and above, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has also identified poverty and crowding as increased factors for coronavirus vulnerability.
New York City’s Department for the Aging has been placing an average of 10,000 wellness check-in calls to seniors each day. A representative said that many request a second call because these are sometimes the only ones older adults receive.

“The recommendations have been to avoid mixing, or not to expose older people in your family to the virus,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor and the global director of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “What has that meant for their social isolation? What about depression?”

Starting next month, using $150,000 from the Emergency Response Fund of the New York Community Trust, a beneficiary of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, Dr. El-Sadr will spearhead a telephone survey of about 1,500 individuals who are 70 years or older and living in the five boroughs, oversampling for the communities most severely affected by the coronavirus based on data collected by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The survey will collect demographic information and identify whether those surveyed or anyone in their household has been diagnosed with or has died from the virus. It will also assess their access to food and health services, their financial security, their mental health and their willingness to obtain supportive services.

“There’s been so little information about these older individuals, and getting information about them and the impact of Covid on their lives, but also, more importantly, what their needs are, will be very critical,” Dr. El-Sadr said. “The goal is to better inform a proactive response among service providers and government agencies to assist older adults during the pandemic.”