At 75, nursing home looks back, and ahead

At 75, nursing home looks back, and ahead

The original Greenwood House, on Greenwood Avenue in Trenton, 1939.
The original Greenwood House, on Greenwood Avenue in Trenton, 1939.

Even as a child Conrad Druker, who grew up in Ewing and Lawrence, was very aware of Greenwood House and the care it offers. His maternal grandmother, paternal grandfather, and mother-in-law all spent the last years of their lives at the skilled nursing facility in Ewing. 

“No nursing home environment is a perfect environment, but Greenwood House and the people that work at Greenwood House have an attitude and an approach to caring for the residents that is unusual and extremely compassionate,” Druker said. Today he is president of Greenwood House, having become active as an adult “to make sure that the facility was available to future generations.”

Make that three generations and counting: This year Greenwood House is marking its 75th anniversary and embarking on a renovation to update its technology and appearance.

To celebrate the anniversary and support the renovation, The Zebra Tomato Party — a meatless food and wine farm-to-table feast — will be held Wednesday, May 14, at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. 

Despite changes in the health-care system and in Jewish demographics and economics, the Greenwood House board continues to see a need for a Jewish nursing home in central Jersey. 

“We keep coming back to our core mission: to take care of Jewish elderly who can’t afford to take care of themselves,” Druker said. “If we were being paid exclusively by people who were paying for care they could get anywhere, we would not be a charitable organization but a business.”

Greenwood House was founded in 1939 by the Trenton Ladies Sick Benefit Society, also known as Sisters of Bikur Cholim, in the Dugan Estate, an old house on Greenwood Avenue in Trenton. 

“It was mostly for older Jewish people in their 60s or homeless,” said executive director Richard Goldstein of the facility known then as the Home for the Aged Sons and Daughters of Israel. 

Starting with 20 residents in its first year, the Home added enough space in 1954 to house a total of about 50 residents. 

In 1974, with funds raised by Natalie Marcus (see sidebar)and by George Warren, Greenwood House Home for the Jewish Aged was built near the then-new JCC in Ewing, with 60 beds. Today the skilled nursing facility, the Robert and Natalie Marcus Home for the Jewish Aged, has 137 beds and The Abrams Residence, the assisted-living building across the street, houses 20. Other services under the Greenwood House umbrella are the Renee Denmark Punia Community Hospice, the Shirley and Howard Silverman Homemaker Program, and the Labbok Kosher Meals on Wheels.

A changing landscape

Today Greenwood House — which depends on reimbursements from Medicare, private pay clients, and Medicaid — faces challenges in maintaining its commitment to excellence in a turbulent health-care environment. 

“To the extent that health-care reimbursement is either level or being reduced, our operating costs still go up and our operating deficits still go up,” said Drucker, “so we have to look continually for ways to bridge the operating deficit of the nursing home without diminishing the quality of care we provide.” Administrators remain committed to providing more personnel per resident than a professional operator may have, he added.

Because the Medicaid reimbursement “does not cover the cost it takes to care for people at the level that Greenwood House cares for people,” the nursing home faces an operating deficit, which is largely offset by fund-raising, profits from its other services, and the allocations it receives as a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, said Druker.

The needs of the elderly are changing as well. With options like assisted living and home health care, people are coming to skilled nursing facilities like Greenwood House much frailer and staying for a shorter time than in the past. 

Another change is unique to the Jewish community. “When Greenwood House was first formed,” said Druker, “the Jewish consumer was not viewed as an attractive consumer for the general public. But today all the institutions that compete with Greenwood House compete for the Jewish consumer.” 

At the same time, the Jewish population has migrated away from Ewing Township. The result is “more competition for the population that used to default to Greenwood House,” said Druker.

As the environment has changed, Greenwood House, along with many other exclusively Jewish care facilities in this country, became nonsectarian, opening its doors to non-Jews two years ago. Today about 70 percent of the residents are Jewish, said Druker.

A renovation will “help us continue to compete with other organizations that are interested in attracting the population that has historically been our constituency,” he said.

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