Ron Gold’s life changed Thanksgiving weekend 2011, when the West Orange native made the ordinary but fateful decision to go biking with some friends.
Just a few miles from home, Gold, then 51, was hit head on by a car, and spent months in recuperation and rehab before heading home, in a wheelchair, knowing he would never walk again.
His personal tragedy, however, led him to create a new business, a marketplace for hiring home health workers. He calls it Lean on We.
Until the accident, he told NJJN at Jackie’s Grillette in Montclair, he had the life he’d dreamed of. He and his wife, Betsy, met on the Young Judaea Year Course in Israel. Their three daughters (now 18, 21, and 24) were on a path to success, and he had a lucrative and satisfying professional life as an international trader for Lehman Brothers, and later for Barclay’s.
He lived in Upper Saddle River and traveled frequently. He loved the intensity of days that started as early as 6:30 a.m. and might not end until after 11 p.m.
The accident changed everything. He said he is lucky not to have lost his cognitive abilities, but his spine was crushed. Although he can use his upper body, he is paralyzed from the waist down. After finally going home from rehab, he had planned to return to work. “But each time I was mentally and physically ready to go, I’d have a setback,” he said. “It just got further and further away.”
Ultimately, he realized he would never go back to his old life. “It would be a challenge to do the job at the level I expected of myself,” he said.
But he knew he had to find a way to earn a living. He started to think about one of the obstacles he faced during his recovery. After two months at home, with plenty of nurses and caregivers, his insurance cut off payments for a home health aide.
Not wanting his wife to take on the role of caregiver, he needed to find an alternative. It was no easy task.
That was the germ of his idea, which focuses on correcting four things: it’s hard to find a good home health aide who will also be a good fit, it’s even harder to do a proper background check, aides aren’t paid enough to attract the best people, and aides are often unable to plan vacations or even take sick days.
He calls Lean on We, launched in January 2015, a “marketplace” for home health aides. He vets everyone on the list through fingerprinting and background checks, and meets them in person to assess their abilities and develop a bio for those who make it onto his site.
“We meet every single aide and vet every aide who makes it onto our site. In some ways, it’s self-selecting because people know they will be fingerprinted and fully vetted,” he said.
“We also encourage people not to just look at the site but to call us. We can walk people through the process who are in a crisis situation. We make a point of having someone who understands answer the phone,” he said.
Once the company has some idea of what a client needs, they will send some names that fit. “Otherwise, it would be overwhelming,” said Gold. And he quipped, “We’re certainly not at a point where you can or should just pick a caregiver from our site and put it in an on-line ‘shopping cart.’”
The service is available for a flat fee of a few hundred dollars, plus a weekly maintenance fee of just over $20 that ensures backup for sick time or vacation time, and the option to find a more suitable aide if that becomes necessary. It also enables the aides to reap the financial benefit of their work, rather than have a large chunk eaten by an agency.
Lean on We currently serves the tristate area and, according to Gold, has more than 100 clients and several thousand aides; Gold believes it’s a model that could expand to other regions of the country within several years.
And he’s pleased that his new work falls in line with the values he learned through his involvement in Young Judaea. He was inspired by some of his Jewish youth movement friends who have created companies that in some way seek to fix a broken world, he said, both in the United States and in Israel.
Gold, a graduate of Golda Och Academy when it was a fledgling Solomon Schechter Day School in Cranford, who now lives in Hillside, acknowledged that he is still disoriented from the accident. And he hopes that while Lean on We helps others with their searches, it will help him continue to heal.