Making the hard decision to close a Jewish institution
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OpinionEditorial

Making the hard decision to close a Jewish institution

"We can’t help but feel sad about the loss of this Jewish institution. And we can’t help but wonder what the landscape of Jewish Pittsburgh will look like going forward."

The Charles M. Morris Nursing & Rehabilitation Center (Photo provided by the Jewish Association on Aging)
The Charles M. Morris Nursing & Rehabilitation Center (Photo provided by the Jewish Association on Aging)

For the first time in 114 years, it looks like our community may be without a Jewish nursing home.

The Jewish Association on Aging made the understandable decision late last week that it was no longer financially tenable to continue operating its 92-bed Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

A confluence of events was to blame, officials said, including a large long-term gap between Medicaid coverage and the actual cost of providing care for residents on Medicaid, and a long-term trend toward at-home care. But it was the expenses and lost revenue associated with COVID-19 that accelerated the decision to close the facility.

Now in the process of meeting industry protocols and finalizing details, the JAA anticipates closing Charles Morris on Jan. 12.

The 50 residents of the nursing home, along with their families and in consultation with JAA staff, will now need to find alternative places to live. Some will go home. Some may be able to transfer to one of the JAA’s personal care residences — Weinberg Village or Weinberg Terrace — or to its AHAVA Memory Center, which will continue to operate. Others will move to different nursing homes, without a Jewish affiliation.

Reaction from members of Jewish Pittsburgh to the news of the Charles Morris closure was swift. On social media, many lamented the loss of the only Jewish nursing home in the city, writing how thankful they were to have had a Jewish environment, kosher food and a rabbi on staff for their loved ones.

“I am heartbroken,” wrote one community member on Facebook, echoing the sentiments of many more.

Though only 19 of Pittsburgh’s Jewish elderly currently live at Charles Morris, the thought of not having a Jewish communal option for our seniors needing nursing care is somewhat disconcerting. In addition to the kosher food, and the rabbi on staff, there is the intangible benefit of living in a Jewish environment among other Jews. Although a portion of Charles Morris residents are only there for a short stay for rehabilitation, others live there for years. For them, Charles Morris is home.

In the years — or months — to come, other Jewish institutions will likely face similar structural challenges such as ongoing funding deficits, changing societal norms and a reliance on a substantial number of non-Jewish customers using their services. For some, we suspect that COVID-19 could also be the breaking point. The leadership of those Jewish organizations will need to make hard decisions about reducing, restructuring or even ceasing operations in order to be viable in the current environment.

The JAA plans to hire a Jewish community liaison who will work to bring Judaism to Jews in nursing homes around the area, whether or not they ever resided at Charles Morris. Rabbi Dovid Small will be making visits to area nursing homes as well. We are confident those efforts will help maintain some connection to Jewish life for our seniors in nursing facilities.

We can debate whether a Jewish nursing home is necessary in today’s world — Montefiore Hospital closed 30 years ago, when it became evident that it wasn’t necessary to have a Jewish hospital, for example. And we can debate when a community should decide it can no longer afford to support an institution that serves just a small number of Jews.

Still, we can’t help but feel sad about the loss of this Jewish institution. And we can’t help but wonder what the landscape of Jewish Pittsburgh will look like going forward in the absence of Charles Morris. PJC

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