Since she was in high school, Miriam Levi has been drawn to working with older adults. She brings years of training and experience in improving nursing home culture as a Green House guide to her current position.
Miriam’s first nursing home experience was as a teen volunteer in Detroit, where she grew up. “I was sold,” she said. “This is where I wanted to be. I was comfortable with the population.” Noticing that the residents wanted to venture outdoors more, she created Roll and Stroll, a program that recruited other high school girls to take residents for walks in their wheelchairs.
As an undergraduate, Miriam got an internship at The New Jewish Home’s previous Bronx location, doing recreation therapy. “It was a great place to learn,” she said. Through a visionary social worker on the team, she was first exposed to ideas about long-term care that came to shape her career.
“Sandy Meyers was a pioneer who challenged the status quo and wanted to make change. She took us on field trips to different nursing homes, to learn about how to make them less institutionalized, more like home. The idea of person-directed care really appealed to me,” she said.
About five years later, when Miriam returned to The New Jewish Home as associate director of therapeutic recreation, she became involved in efforts to transform the nursing home culture. Along with her therapeutic recreation responsibilities, she was also the community coordinator. She and several other managers were assigned to different units to build communities within the nursing home.
“We worked with staff and families to deeply know residents and offer more person-directed care in a collaborative fashion.” We embraced the core principles of The Green House model: helping those in our care live meaningful lives, creating a real home and empowering our workforce. I also trained staff to utilize this care model,” she said.
As director of community life activities in Manhattan, she managed thousands of volunteers who helped her implement resident-directed programming. “Residents chose the programs they themselves could run and enjoy.”
Miriam’s next goal was to become a nursing home administrator, so she went back to school and earned her Master’s degree. “When the time was right, I took the exam and then accepted the position of assistant administrator at The New Jewish Home’s Westchester facility.” In her new position, she supports overall operations, including the small house communities, where the physical space and staffing structure are largely guided by the Green House model.
She was just getting her feet wet when COVID hit, and her job changed instantly. “My role has been to support staff and residents in every way. That may mean driving miles to pick someone up, or staying late at night to help staff, or working with regulatory agencies to make sure we’re in full compliance. I work closely with Larry Abrams, the administrator, to keep morale up and keep residents healthy, happy, and in touch with their families.”
Miriam calls on her deep experience with person-directed care to coach and mentor the staff. “I bring that lens—helping staff see the person behind every resident. I’ve coached them through challenges and helped them find creative approaches to care for residents during difficult times.”
Today, she is helping to create an environment where everyone is supported and feels heard. “All staff, including management, will take time to get back to normal,” she said. “I’m working with the leadership team to be better leaders, and offering them tools to do their jobs—resources and emotional support.” In March, she partnered with Paraprofessional Health Institute to create a summit where 18 experienced leaders gathered virtually to recharge and reflect on the past year through guided discussions.
“We talked about customer service training, tools on how to work with families, and understanding better how to interact in times of stress. It’s important that staff feel supported.”
And ultimately, when staff are supported, the nursing home residents will benefit from an enhanced experience. “This is what has motivated me during my entire career—a nursing home is the beginning of a different part of your life. It should give people the opportunity to live life to the fullest. We want to create that home, where we care for them the way they want to be cared for.”