Dr. Ruth Spinner, our Manhattan medical director, has been expertly leading The New Jewish Home’s system-wide response to the devastating pandemic since February, tracking the disease in Asia before we experienced any cases of COVID-19 at our facilities. She continues to skillfully guide our COVID-19 tasks force, which brings senior leaders, clinicians and administrators across our system together on a daily call where they proactively plan and solve problems, discuss best practices and analyze the latest guidance from the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Though the worst of the pandemic is now hopefully behind us, Dr. Spinner continues to lead with candor and motivation to provide our clients with outstanding clinical care. We asked Dr. Spinner a few questions about her experience and what sets The New Jewish Home apart.
Tell us about your medical background. Why did you want to become a doctor and specifically focus on geriatric medicine?
I had several seminal experiences that influenced my choice of a career in geriatrics. I had a very close relationship with my grandmother growing up — she was a Julliard-trained pianist and a feminist. She died at the age of 99, when I was in medical school. She was an inspiration. As a teen, I volunteered at a local nursing home and befriended some of the residents there. One was a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor who kept a daily journal and squeezed fresh orange juice for me every time I visited, and another was a woman in her 70s who used to tell me about her world travels. I was struck by their stories, their strength, and some of the indignities they now underwent. I found out about the field of geriatrics and pursued it to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives by helping older adults maintain their health and improve their quality of life.
Why did you decide to join The New Jewish Home team? How has your history with The New Jewish Home helped you lead the organization’s efforts to fight the pandemic?
I first worked at The New Jewish Home when I was in college — as a companion where I provided 1:1 visits with residents for a few hours a week. I remember seeing the physician teams rounding on the units — TNJH has always been a “teaching nursing home.” I later trained here myself during my two-year geriatrics fellowship at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. In those exposures, I was struck by the medical team’s focus on evidence-based medicine, teaching, research, and resident-centered care. There are very few skilled nursing facilities remaining in the United States that have that focus.
When I was asked to lead Jewish Home’s efforts in fighting the pandemic, I knew from my history with the organization that our interdisciplinary team of leaders would remain true to our values of affirming dignity, embodying compassion, and increasing knowledge. We have remained wholly focused on doing what was right for the people we serve and having a physician lead the effort assured the team that clinical care would come first.
What do you think sets The New Jewish Home apart clinically from other organizations? How does The New Jewish Home approach patient care in general — and specifically in times of crisis like COVID?
The New Jewish Home is very different from many other skilled nursing homes in that we have full-time medical staff. The fact that our staff are actually Mount Sinai Division of Hospital Medicine physicians and nurse practitioners sets us apart from other organizations. The medical staff are highly trained individuals, some of whom have presented at national medical conferences and have publications in research journals. Over half of our physicians are fellowship-trained geriatricians, which means they have received specialized training to care for older adults. This is a group of physicians and nurse practitioners that turn to the medical literature and evidence-based medicine when approaching patient care. All of this really points to our clinical excellence.
During the pandemic the most essential thing was getting physicians and nurse practitioners to be physically present at our facility. You hear about staff shortages at other facilities, but not here. Our staff showed up seven days a week without fail. We also worked with Mount Sinai to credential seven additional physicians to make sure we had backup, if needed. Not a single day went by where the medical staff was not fully staffed and ready to provide care.
What was your relationship with Mount Sinai Health System before COVID and during the crisis?
We have always had a great relationship with Mount Sinai. In addition to Mount Sinai staffing our medical department, we have a long history training Mount Sinai medical students and geriatrics fellows. During the pandemic, we were able to use resources from Mount Sinai that bolstered our care and learned of medical protocols used by the department of hospital medicine. We have a close advisory relationship with Mount Sinai’s medical director of infection prevention. Additionally, we were in contact with leaders of the health system’s palliative care department, who shared training and protocols with us. We are a part of their Community Paramedicine Program — where a paramedic evaluates patients prior to an ER visit, and has an ER doctor FaceTime while the patient is still in our facility. We also partner with Mount Sinai on transitions of care and work collaboratively to provide our shared patients with the best care.
You are a mother with young children. How have you been able to juggle all the challenges the current situation presents as it relates to parenting?
My kids have visited my work in the past and they understand why I’ve been so busy during the pandemic. They’re proud of me. I also have a lot of support around me that I can count on.
Even in these challenging times, what makes you proud to work at The New Jewish Home?
I would say I am even more proud to work at Jewish Home in these challenging times. The pandemic has not been easy, but knowing that The New Jewish Home is 100% committed to empowering older adults and providing high quality care has kept me focused.