Editor’s note: This is an enhanced version of the story that appeared in print.
Most 5-year-old boys dream of being firefighters, athletes or astronauts. Not Daniel Reingold: He wanted to be a nursing home administrator.
That’s because his father, Jacob Reingold, was a long-time leader of the Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, in New York’s Bronx borough. The boisterous Jewish-Russian immigrant would often regale Daniel and his three other sons with tales from the nursing home at the dinner table. The young Reingold visited there often, too, and recalls riding wheelchairs down the hallways, snacking on peanut M&Ms from the onsite candy store, and spending time with his “500 grandparents.”
“I thought he had the best job in the world,” says Reingold, who is now 63. “He met the most interesting people and he was constantly doing good deeds.”
Fast forward to today, and Dan is the long-time leader of that very same institution, currently as president and CEO of RiverSpring Health, which includes operation of the Hebrew Home. He succeeded his father in the early 1990s, who stepped down as executive vice president at age 75 before passing away at 83.
Reingold covets that “culture of creativity” at Hebrew Home, first put in place by his father, and his organization is constantly out in front of the big issues plaguing the eldercare community. They put into place what they say were the first sexuality and intimacy policies in a U.S. long-term care facility in the 1990s. And more recently, in 2016, they have similarly developed what they believe to be the nation’s first guidelines related to the use of medical cannabis in nursing homes. With those two firsts, coupled with one of the early music therapy programs in the field, Reingold likes to say, “I get to talk about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.”
In another first, Hebrew Home established the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention back in 2005. Since then, they’ve witnessed countless harrowing stories, be it a mail order bride who financially exploited her husband (Weinberg helped get the marriage annulled and the woman deported); a drug addict who stole his mother’s prosthetic leg and sold it for drug money (they refitted her with a new leg, put her in short-term rehab, helped get an order of protection against the son and put her in stable housing); or two victims of abuse who independently came to their shelter, fell in love and are hoping to wed in August. RiverSpring is looking to spread this model further, with 14 such centers now established across the country, according to Reingold.
One of the lasting quotes that sticks with Reingold came from his father, in response to a question about where the bright ideas originate. “He said, ‘Dan, you can come up with creative ideas, or you can change bedpans every day,” he recalled. In another quote that’s always stuck with him, from mentor Larry Minnix, a former nursing home administrator and LeadingAge president and CEO, “Unless you’re the lead sled dog, the view is pretty much the same every day.”
That mentor, who is now retired, thinks the field could use more Dan Reingolds and fewer “operators of the status quo.” “He’s an unusual combination of bold, creative, decisive and he has a knack for picking an executive leadership team that serves the organization well,” Minnix told McKnight’s. “Dan’s probably done more and been recognized for more innovative things the last 15 years than anyone in the field. He’s not afraid to take on big issues.”
Nearly 60 years separated from being that “precocious, energetic” 5-year-old who loved to tell jokes, and almost 30 years spent leading Hebrew Home, Reingold is still the same person in some ways. He doesn’t like getting on an airplane without a bag of peanut M&Ms. He still has that same sharp sense of humor, according to Minnix. He lives in Westchester County, where he grew up, 20 minutes away from Hebrew Home, and he still thinks this is the best job in the world, with no thoughts of retiring anytime soon.
When not immersed in eldercare, though, Reingold says he likes to exercise, read “real books,” and he’s pretty handy around the house (something that dates back to his days painting houses through high school). Back in the early aughts, he built a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains in Northeastern New York, where he would often go with his wife, Abigail, and his then-teenage daughters — Rebecca, now 23; Rachel, 26; and Sarah, 28.
But really, his true passion is Hebrew Home and tackling the next “first” that comes along, with the latest happening to be establishing the first continuing care retirement community in New York City. He doesn’t recall ever wavering in his desire to lead the organization, though there was some worry at one point that he might not get the post, which is what lead him to earn a law degree and become the organization’s attorney before eventually taking over as chief.
“Once the board came to me and offered the opportunity, I’ve never looked back. It’s been truly the most fulfilling, rewarding and exciting job that I can imagine. I really feel like I have the best job in the world.”
Earns B.A. degree in sociology from Hobart College
Acquires MSW degree from Columbia University
Obtains law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University; starts as attorney in private practice
Becomes associate executive director of Hebrew Home
Steps into role of president and CEO
Establishes Weinberg Center for Elder Justice
Wins Rosalie Wolf Memorial Award, The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse
Earns Jewish Programming Award, Association of Jewish Aging Services
Wins Richard Cornuelle Award for Social Entrepreneurship, Manhattan Institute For Policy Research
Collects Victims Services Award, USDOJ