As the final resident moved out of the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Jan. 11, Sharyn Rubin was already busy making plans to keep in touch with those who had transitioned to other nursing facilities or returned home to their families.
Keeping tabs on former residents of Charles Morris, and ensuring they have what they need to stay connected to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, is only part of Rubin’s responsibilities in her new role as director of Jewish communal aging services for the Jewish Association on Aging. Rubin, who has worked for the JAA in various capacities — most recently as director of resident and community services — for 15 years, also will be on the lookout for Jewish seniors who may not have had a prior relationship with the JAA to see how she can help them engage Jewishly as well.
“I consider myself extremely lucky and extremely blessed,” Rubin said. “I grew up in this Jewish community. My parents were here. Fortunately, one of my kids is still here and I love this community. The people I’ll be working with are often people that I knew growing up, or I knew their kids. And I thrive on doing this kind of work.”
Charles Morris officially closed on Jan. 12, the result of the convergence of three factors: a significant gap between Medicaid funding and the cost of caring for Medicaid clients; a trend toward at-home care for the elderly; and the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis, including a marked decrease in short-term rehabilitation patients due to the reduction of elective surgeries. All other arms of the JAA remain in operation, including Weinberg Village, Weinberg Terrace, AHAVA Memory Center and The New Riverview, which collectively house 341 residents.
Several weeks ago, after announcing its intention to close Charles Morris, a team of its professionals, including its director of nursing, its director of social work, its care navigator and Rubin — in her role as resident advocate — began working individually with each of the approximately 50 residents of Charles Morris and their families to determine “what their next step would be,” said Debbie Winn-Horvitz, the JAA’s president and CEO. About 17 of those residents were Jewish.
“That actually occurred over the course of probably about six weeks,” she said. “In any given week, there were a few different residents who would be moving to a different location. Our last two residents left on the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 11. And those two particular residents actually ended up going home with family members.”
About 20% of Charles Morris residents stayed within the JAA continuum of care, said Winn-Horvitz, transitioning to the personal care facility Weinberg Village or to the Ahava Memory Center, when medically appropriate. Those who stayed under the JAA umbrella were members of the Jewish community.
Close to 50% of Charles Morris residents transitioned to other nursing homes, Winn-Horvitz said, and “a handful of individuals went home with family.”
“As we approached the closure, it was important to us to look at a combination of both the clinical needs of our residents who were here as well as their spiritual needs and try to figure out what was the best environment to meet both of those things,” she said.
For those Jewish residents now living outside of JAA facilities, Rubin will be keeping in touch — which is more challenging in the midst of a pandemic.
“Right now, during COVID, she’s trying to figure out how we can, even on a remote basis, keep them involved in our programming and activities,” said Winn-Horvitz. “For example, we have Purim coming up and so we are working on virtual ways to keep them connected, and with the goal of expanding this capability to anyone in the Jewish community who is in a nursing home within Allegheny County.”
The JAA will be working with the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Council, and with “other faith-based organizations” to let them know Rubin is available to help keep Jewish residents connected to the Jewish community, said Winn-Horvitz.
Rubin intends to work with Jewish Family and Community Services, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Holocaust Center to find seniors who the JAA may not yet know to see if they could benefit from any services offered by the JAA, such as Mollie’s Meals, a kosher meal delivery service.
“As long as COVID’s here, I won’t be able to physically go and visit some of these people, but my goal is ultimately I will be able to so that we can put a name to a face and they can put a name to a face,” Rubin said.
Rubin will also be working with the JAA’s new director of pastoral care, Rabbi Dovid Small, to connect Jewish seniors to the community.
Her goal is to “make a difference,” she said. “If I can do that for the people in my community that I love and respect, how blessed am I?”
So far, there are no plans regarding use of the facility that housed Charles Morris, said Winn-Horvitz.
“We are just starting to put closure on two major, major events for the organization,” she said. “One, obviously, is the closure of Charles Morris and the other is COVID. Getting that first dose of the vaccine to everyone is huge.”
Earlier this month, 99% of the residents in the JAA continuum received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as did “a significant majority” of the JAA’s staff. CVS will return to the JAA on Feb. 2 and 3 to administer the second dose.
“That’s really allowed everyone to take a little bit of a breath, a little sigh of relief,” Winn-Horvitz said. “We are still continuing to test all of our staff on a weekly basis in compliance with federal regulation. Everyone is continuing to come back negative. We have no positive cases. We are hoping to keep it that way through the second round of the vaccines. Then we will begin our planning to start to reunite families and residents as soon as we can, as safely as we can.”
The agency also has been “focusing on quality improvement for the remaining facilities that we have here,” Winn-Horvitz said. “We’ve made some upgrades, if you will, to the supports and services, clinical and otherwise, at Weinberg Village, Weinberg Terrace and Ahava.”
The JAA is in the process of finalizing a contract with UPMC to place medical directors in both Weinberg Terrace and Weinberg Village. Medical directors were in place at Charles Morris, and are in place at Ahava, but are not required for personal care facilities such as Weinberg Terrace or Weinberg Village, explained Winn-Horvitz.
“But we feel it is the right thing to do to ensure high levels of clinical care within those facilities,” she said, adding that the agency has also increased its social work support at both Weinberg Village and at Weinberg Terrace from part-time to full-time.
JAA leadership is also focused now on two “technology opportunities” made possible by two grants: one from the R.K. Mellon Foundation, for monitoring devices to be installed in residences of seniors at Riverview and Ahava to monitor health status; and another grant from the Association of Jewish Aging Services to help train seniors to use technology to stay connected with friends and family and for telemedicine.
“Very shortly, we are going to begin the planning process to take a step back and figure out what comes next, what really is the best way to utilize these resources in the form of the Charles Morris space for our community, for the benefit of our community,” Winn-Horvitz said. “We’re looking forward to getting started on that process in the next couple months.
“This was a very challenging time, these past several months,” she added. “It finally feels like we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re going to be able to think about forward-thinking strategy for the community as opposed to fire-fighting every day.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.