Jews are mandated to care for the elderly, and Jewish nursing homes, in their role as institutions meant to fulfill that mitzvah, are highly valued by the community.
But one such cherished facility needs to increase the community’s awareness of its high quality of service and cease being “the biggest secret in town,” said Donna Sobel, the new director of business development at Greenwood House.
Greenwood House, in Ewing, has certainly kept up with evolving health care provisions, she said, having made enormous changes to its network of senior living and care services through the years.
But, Sobel said, Greenwood is either unknown or misunderstood among a great portion of the Jewish community of central New Jersey. Many simply don’t know about it; others think of it as simply a nursing home. Sobel said that’s something she hopes to change.
Hired in August to implement the organization’s 20-year strategic plan, Sobel said her role is to transform what she sees as that “biggest secret” into widespread public awareness of Greenwood House’s continuum of care services. These include home care, skilled nursing care, rehabilitation, assisted living, hospice care at home and in Greenwood House’s skilled nursing and assisted-living units, and its kosher meals-on-wheels program.
Expanding its “brand consciousness” is critical to Greenwood’s long-term future, Sobel said; its current business situation “will not keep it afloat for 20 years.” To reverse this trajectory, she said, will require Greenwood to “be more innovative in its services and to reach out in a stronger way.”
She said Greenwood can be “the leader of senior services in this area.”
After just two weeks on the job, Sobel, a resident of Richboro, Pa., and a member of Shir Ami in Newton, Pa., had already learned that Greenwood House’s mission — “the highest quality care,” “an atmosphere of compassion and dignity,” an environment “based on Jewish traditions and values” — was not something that sits on the shelf. “I hear it every day here,” she said, explaining that striving to fulfill the mission is evident in both everyday decisions and the long-term view set out in the strategic plan.
Greenwood’s leaders, she said, have “made a commitment to the mission, and that always takes precedence.” That includes taking into account “the patient’s needs and the needs of the community, and the fact that we will never forget our roots. We’ve been around since 1939, and we have always held true to the mission,” Sobel said.
In keeping with that mission, she said, Greenwood House offers more services than she has seen in similar facilities: more gym equipment, four staff members certified to do programming for residents and clients with Parkinson’s, two rehab activity coordinators on each unit, and a higher staffing ratio than required by the state. At Greenwood House, Sobel said, “it’s not about filling the beds and meeting the census — here it’s all about the patient.”
Sobel’s job description includes conducting needs assessments, community outreach and programming, reengineering of existing services, and exploring joint venture opportunities with other senior living providers. She was still feeling her way, she said, but Greenwood House has already rented space at Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction to be used “for multiple functions and services”; in its first program, on Sept. 16, Dr. Jill Schwartz-Chevlin spoke on “Transitions in Care.” Other possibilities for expanded programming, none finalized as of yet, include outreach to seniors and those with disabilities, care for those with memory loss, social day care, dementia education, and a speakers’ bureau.
Sobel was not actively looking for a new job but she noticed, she said, that the Greenwood employees “were all laughing and smiling,” and that many patients were sitting outside with their attendants.
“I’ve always been a patient advocate, and that’s what really drives me,” she said.
Sobel, who grew up in northeast Philadelphia, graduated from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in social work, and launched a career in health care. She went from serving as a hospital social worker to business development — diverse experience that, she said, prepared her for the job at Greenwood House.
As a hospital social worker at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital in Philadelphia, she assessed patients and ensured that, regardless of insurance limitations and financial barriers, they had their needs met at discharge.
After 10 years she moved to Rolling Hill Hospital (now Einstein Medical Center-Elkins Park), also as a hospital social worker, but soon took on the challenge of rehabilitation social worker, dealing with patients who were either disabled or had recently experienced a serious medical event.
Soon she became the hospital’s rehabilitation liaison, going to outside medical centers and evaluating referrals to her hospital’s rehab unit. Her in-person meetings with patients and families boosted the number of referrals, and, Sobel said, the hospital’s rehabilitation services grew. “We went from 17 to 23 beds…,” and, after further expansion, “the 50-bed facility, now called MossRehab,” is a major provider of rehabilitation services in the Philadelphia area.
Sobel went on to work in business development, admissions, management, and marketing at a number of healthcare venues, including Extendicare, Kindred Hospital in Philadelphia, and Marlton Rehabilitation Hospital, which in 2016 became part of the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. Along the way, she earned a master’s in health administration.
In all her positions, said Sobel, “I was always building services for customers. Everybody is a customer — from hospitals that make referrals to care providers, and the people who receive services and their family members are customers.
“It always goes back to my social work roots; even though it is in a business capacity that I work, to me it’s always about the customer.”