Since its inception more than 30 years ago, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) has disbursed more than $75 million to Jewish aging programs and partnerships within our community, vastly exceeding the original endowment of $45 million. More than $60 million has gone to activities of the Jewish Association on Aging. Above that, JHF has established itself as a national leader — and even global leader — in improved models for skilled nursing care; training the older adult workforce; advocacy for policies that support caregivers and quality at the end of life; and medical advances in the physical and mental health of seniors.
For our work with seniors, JHF received the 2008 Samuel K. McCune Award for Distinguished Service from Presbyterian SeniorCare; the 2011 Allegheny County Medical Society Benjamin Rush Individual Award; the 2017 UPMC Senior Champions, Community Champion, Creating Better Lives for Seniors Award; and the 2022 University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing Honorary Alumni Award.
COVID-19 took a devastating toll on older adults: those over 60 years old accounted for 24% of COVID cases but 95% of deaths. About 8% of people living in long-term care facilities in the United States died of COVID-19 — nearly one in 12. The pandemic laid bare key deficiencies in the structural, operational and training realities of skilled nursing facilities.
Putting expertise into action
JHF responded quickly to the crisis that COVID-19 brought to seniors by partnering with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide training, program development and new workforce models to support the frontlines of care.
As lead educator for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) and Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Regional Response Health Collaborative Program (RRHCP) during the height of the COVID outbreak, JHF provided critical education to healthcare providers across the Commonwealth. In 2021, JHF received the UPMC Senior Services Community Champion Award, given annually to recognize exceptional leadership to improve the lives of seniors, for the RRHCP program’s impact in western Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, DHS named JHF lead educator for the Pennsylvania Community HealthChoices Long-Term Care Learning Network for nursing facilities. This work advances the DHS strategic quality incentive program through weekly webinars and quarterly learning collaboratives in partnership with several managed care organizations.
As our population ages, the need for long-term care grows, but the skilled nursing workforce has not kept up. JHF addressed workforce challenges through the Revisiting the Teaching Nursing Home initiative, a pilot program to trial a better model of residential care for the commonwealth’s frailest residents. Through partnerships among skilled nursing facilities and schools of nursing, the program aims to improve the care of older adults in nursing homes, bolster the workforce and achieve better health status for residents.
During the height of pandemic, JHF convened a group of key experts and stakeholders to advance policy and practical solutions. JHF funded and guided the creation of an acclaimed documentary, What COVID-19 Exposed in Long-Term Care, and a study from LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston, The Case for Funding: What Is Happening to Pennsylvania’s Nursing Homes? Armed with these resources, JHF joined with advocates and our partners in the Pennsylvania Health Funders Collaborative to advance proposals for additional funding in the commonwealth, ultimately influencing Pennsylvania’s budget dedicated to long-term care. In July, the Pennsylvania Legislature and Governor Tom Wolf agreed to infuse funding to hire and train more staff at the Commonwealth’s nursing facilities, providing much-needed aid to an industry struggling with high staff turnover. This includes a roughly 20% increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates — the first substantial increase in Medicaid rates in nearly a decade.
Engaging and supporting seniors across the lifespan
JHF demonstrates its commitment to supporting our aging population through all stages of life in our senior engagement initiatives, including caregiver support and education on quality at the end of life. JHF staff created and now leads the state’s efforts in training communities to support individuals living with dementia, their families, and care partners through Dementia Friends Pennsylvania. JHF established free programs such as Fit with a Physician and the Virtual Senior Academy as a safe way for older adults to incorporate physical activity and an online learning platform in their daily lives.
These commitments will continue into 2023. In addition, JHF has long supported the health issues facing older women, from breast cancer, to heart disease, to poverty, to physically and emotionally disabling conditions. JHF plans a 2023 campaign for greater equity in health care as women age. PJC
Karen Wolk Feinstein, PhD, is president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.