For the first time since opening its doors in 1939, Greenwood House in Ewing has become a nonsectarian nursing facility.
It is the last of seven homes in New Jersey — and possibly the entire nation — to drop its status as an all-Jewish nursing home.
Until December the Robert and Natalie Marcus Home for the Jewish Aged — the residential arm of Greenwood House — “would admit only Jewish people,” said executive director Richard Goldstein. The policy was strict: “We were not admitting spouses of Jewish people who were not Jewish,” he said. “We were not admitting parents of converts.”
But economic realities and demographic projections for the future made the change in the admissions policy imperative, Goldstein explained in a Jan. 25 phone interview.
“It is very difficult to run a sectarian organization in today’s world,” he said. “People now only use nursing homes when they are very ill. If you go back 20 years, people had two choices — staying at home or going to a nursing home. Today, you can have homecare. You can go to assisted living. You can go to independent living. Or you can go to a nursing home. You have a lot of choices. There is a smaller percentage of people living in nursing homes. Some are very sick and stay for just short periods of time.”
The move to open the admission policy, he said, was an effort to ensure financial security. “If we don’t survive fiscally we are not going to serve anyone, Jewish or not,” Goldstein said.
Adding to the survival threat was a $430,000 cut in state Medicaid funds that reduced daily reimbursement rates from $221 to $206 per patient.
“If we were 100 percent Medicaid and 100 percent Jewish, we wouldn’t be here,” Goldstein said.
When the new policy began in December, the home admitted eight non-Jews. Currently, that population is down to three. The others checked out after receiving short-term rehabilitation. “The transition has been seamless and uneventful,” Goldstein told NJ Jewish News. “The people are happy. They knew ours was a Jewish facility, and we have done everything to make them comfortable.”
And, he added, “our Jewish residents are comfortable” with the change.
Despite the new eligibility requirements, the nursing home has not changed its essential nature, he insisted.
“The name remains the Robert and Natalie Marcus Home for the Jewish Aged. We are still Jewish,” Goldstein said. The new makeup of the population “does not affect the ambiance. We are continuing to market this as a Jewish facility. We are still 98 or 99 percent Jewish” in a population of 137 residents. “We expect to keep it that way.”
To do so, Goldstein said, the Greenwood House environment is particularly welcoming to its Jewish residents. Services are held on Shabbat and all Jewish holidays. Rabbi Isaac Leizerowski and Cantor David Wisnia serve as chaplains, leading religious observances and occasional discussions on topics of interest to the Jewish community.
That and other aspects of the home’s Jewish character will not change. “We are under Orthodox supervision for our kashrut, and we are now getting ready for Passover,” said Goldstein. “Whatever their religious beliefs, all residents must abide by dietary rules. They cannot bring in nonkosher food.”
But residents may celebrate non-Jewish holidays, and have decorations and religious items in their own private areas. “We don’t celebrate Christmas, but we will provide a chaplain if they need spiritual care, and we may eventually have non-Jewish services in our auditorium if people wish to go to them,” said Goldstein. While the intention is to meet the needs of the new residents, he emphasized, “we are a Jewish facility, and we explain that to the people who come in.”
Martin Goetz, who chairs the board of the Association of Jewish Aging Services of North America, told NJJN that considering the 180 member facilities of his organization, “Greenwood House would have been unique if it had not become more inclusive.”
Goetz is CEO of the River Garden Hebrew Home for the Aged in Jacksonville, Fla., where 40 percent of the residents are not Jewish.
At his facility, Goetz said, “we look to serve Jewish needs, and we also look to serve the entire community.” That aim “is true of the overwhelming majority of our members. While the environment is welcoming to everybody, you are clearly in a Jewish environment.”