Here I was standing at the funeral of Rabbi Israel T, one of the beloved residents of our nursing home and a man I came to love and admire in the too short period of time that I was privileged to know him.
Not only was I at the funeral, I was in the middle of my public eulogy at the request of his family and there was nary a dry eye in the crowd, including my own.
I couldn’t help but be amazed at the twist of fate and the foresight of one man that led me to this point.
You see, it wasn’t much earlier that I was a young and naïve upstart in the healthcare community. Coming off a career in what may as well have been a different galaxy (I sold diamonds and jewelry in the heart of the New York City Diamond District), I was totally unprepared for the reality, much less the rigors of caring for people who were often elderly and clinically and emotionally compromised.
My first employer and the visionary behind the Regency Nursing Centers Of New Jersey, David Gross, noted my inherent passion and desire to make a difference. I was also a pretty good communicator and what you’d call a ‘people’s person.’
He took a gamble on me and hired me to be an Admissions Director in one of his nursing homes.
Yet when I arrived on my very first day of employment, I was placed into the role of “Patient Advocate.”
I had no idea what that meant in practical terms, or how it was relevant to my originally designated job description.
So, I approached Mr. Gross and asked him quizzically why I was being placed in a different role and what exactly the role entailed.
I’ll never forget his response. Indeed, it was my first ‘teachable moment.’
He said, “I didn’t change your role at all, I’m simply preparing you for it.”
He went on to explain that the healthcare “business,” was a far cry from the career I was used to and had just come from.
“In diamonds, you are essentially selling a product. Some people sell cheap widgets and you sold expensive ones, but you were selling a product nonetheless,” he said.
“In healthcare, you are ‘selling’ your heart, your time and your capacity to feel true empathy and compassion towards another human being. The people you will be caring for, are not widgets or diamonds,” he concluded.
By investing me with the role of patient advocate, he taught me that to be successful in healthcare, you must be completely in tune with the needs of the resident and be willing to truly listen to them and treat them as though they were your own parent.
I’d have to “learn the ropes” first and only then would I be ready to make my mark in admissions.
It was a lesson I’d never forget.
It wasn’t much later that I met Rabbi T. for the first time.
He was a new resident to our facility and in our initial meeting, I was enthralled by his scholarly wisdom and captivated by his stories.
He was genuinely grateful to have my listening ear and was only too eager to share of his vast knowledge and the interesting vicissitudes of his life’s experiences.
What he assuredly didn’t realize, was that he was doing infinitely more for me, than I was doing for him.
I would spend hours with him and he would regale me with his incredible stories and cherished memories.
I was devastated when he died and forever touched that his family recognized the relationship we had and asked me to speak at his funeral.
Standing at the funeral, I felt a deep sense of gratitude, not just to Rabbi T., but also to my first employer who was the catalyst for our seemingly impossible friendship.
In today’s fast-paced society there are deleterious consequences in many other sectors.
The feelings of empathy and the priceless investment of one’s personal time to really get to know the resident, has been diminished in our haste to help them with their medications and ADL’s.
We sometimes get so wrapped up in their care and in their care plan, we forget that to truly care, is to give them the most prized and valuable of our possessions;
Judah Gutwein, LNHA, is the CEO of Sky Care Media LLC, which is an online marketing agency for healthcare providers.