Category: Recovery and Resilience

Jumpstarting the Road to Recovery for COVID-19 Patients

Lauren Raschen

At The New Jewish Home’s COVID-19 Recovery Unit, a talented rehabilitation team, led by Lauren Raschen, helps patients regain their strength and resume their activities.

When The New Jewish Home opened its COVID-19 Recovery Unit in the Sutro building in January, it was a new initiative authorized by the New York State Department of Health to serve patients with COVID-19 being discharged from hospitals by helping them build the strength they needed to return home. With Director of Rehabilitation Lauren Raschen leading the therapy team, the patients are in good hands.

One of the first patients to arrive at the COVID-19 Recovery unit “had been in an independent living situation,” Lauren explained. “She passed out in the bathroom and hit her head, fracturing her cervical spine.” The patient was admitted to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with COVID; her doctors believed her fall was the result of her illness. “When she came to us, she required assistance with dressing, and she could only walk about 10 feet, with moderate assistance.” The rehabilitation therapists helped her regain her strength and independence, and in three weeks, having tested negative, she was ready to go home.

“When patients arrive, they are at least ten days post testing positive for COVID-19. There are two types of patients. The first group spent a long time in the hospital, and they may have suffered a stroke, possibly due to COVID, or had other ailments like dementia. The second group are people whose general health is much better; they live in assisted or independent living, but they can’t go back there until they test negative. Those patients are recovering faster and need less assistance.” Lauren said that 70 percent of her patients are very debilitated with other comorbidities, while 30 percent fall into the higher functioning category. In both groups, she said, “Most people get well and go home.”

While Lauren continues to supervise the entire rehabilitation team in Manhattan, her current physical location is in the COVID-19 Recovery Unit. Staff members who work in the COVID-19 Unit are specifically dedicated to that unit—they do not circulate between the two buildings that comprise the Manhattan campus. Lauren’s rehabilitation team includes physical, occupational, and speech and swallowing therapists. Read more about how these team members work with debilitated post-COVID patients to help them regain their strength.

Since all the patients in the COVID-19 Recovery unit have tested positive for the virus, there is a little more flexibility about shared spaces. “The gym is open to one person at a time, and the patients can walk in the hallway a bit. We’re still keeping people distanced for safety but there’s more flexibility in terms of moving people around,” Lauren said.

For the many patients who have passed through the COVID-19 Recovery Unit, Lauren and the rehabilitation staff provided the treatment they needed so they could resume their activities. Opening a unit that is dedicated 100 percent to COVID patients was a good idea,” Lauren reflected. “It’s great that we are able to support hospitals by giving patients a jump-start on their recovery.”

Visitors Return to Sarah Neuman, Bringing Hugs, Smiles, and Tears of Joy

When visitation reopened at The New Jewish Home’s Sarah Neuman facility in Westchester on March 31, the hallways were full of emotion. Lorraine Thomas, a recreation therapist, said her eyes hurt from all the tears of joy she cried with families who were able to visit their loved ones in person after many months apart.

“Our resident Mr. Lopez was so surprised today to receive a family visit that he shouted, ‘My son, my son, my son!’” Lorraine said. “They gave each other the biggest hug ever! It was so sweet to see them reunite!”

Lorraine also shared the story of resident Dorothy Burack, who comes by her office every day to chat. “This time, though, she was more alert and happier than usual, and she shared the news that her daughter and son-in-law had come by for a surprise visit.” Lorraine was glad to hear Dorothy recount this emotional reunion and to see firsthand the lasting impact it had on her mood. “I am so grateful that residents and families can finally be together again,” Lorraine said.

Marcella Simone came around the corner from the elevator on the second floor and spotted her mother, Irma Pennisi, walking toward her. “She noticed me right away,” Marcella said with emotion. “I gave her the biggest smile as if to say, look who’s here! And we hugged and hugged so tightly. We both cried and she said she was so surprised to see me and how much she loved me.”

Elation, tears, and thankfulness—that’s how Debra Grant and her sister described their first visit to their mother Jean Grant in five months. “We’re grateful for the video calls and window visits throughout the months, but there is nothing like being able to see her face-to-face,” Debra said. “She looks wonderful and is definitely well cared for by the staff.”

Niolina Mariani’s daughters Silvana and Yolanda were so happy to see their mother again. “We were like little kids, so excited to finally be able to see and hug each other again. We FaceTime almost every day and call to check in on her morning and night,” they said, but there’s nothing like an in-person visit. We are so very thankful for everything and everyone for taking care of her since we could not be there.

Angela Servidone wore a big smile when her son Peter arrived. “I was so pleased that I was able to see her, speak to her and touch her. I was so happy to see her expression! It was so nice to be able to come in and be with her and knowing that she he’s feeling well and has been so well cared for.”

One sign that things are returning to normal is the reopening of the hair salon, which was closed for nearly a year. Now residents can prepare for family visits, and many of them are ecstatic. As Joan Deubler of Small House 1 said, “I can finally look as good as I feel!”

An Empathetic Intern Delivers Love to COVID Unit Patients and their Families

Ariana Schwartzberg, a student intern working at The New Jewish Home’s COVID-19 Recovery Unit in Manhattan, serves as a critical link between patients and their families in this facility, which is one of the few to receive this designation by the New York State Department of Health to exclusively care for patients with COVID-19. She is “a breath of fresh air,” says Manhattan Administrator Sandra Mundy, because she cares so deeply and is so helpful to staff and patients alike. 

Patients and staff members agree: Ariana is a lifeline. She helps them stay in close contact with each other at a time when regulations do not permit face-to-face visitation in our COVID-only facility. (Our main Manhattan facility opened for visitation on 3/14.)

When Ariana decided to take a semester off from the University of Michigan, she wanted to do something meaningful. Though she was enjoying her internship in the Development department at The New Jewish Home, when the opportunity to do something more hands-on arose, she jumped at it. That’s how she became a family-patient liaison.

Ariana serves as a critical link between patients and their families, bringing them news so they can stay in close touch. The information she relays to patients’ families is not medical in nature — rather, she may simply take a photo of a patient so their family can feel the relief of knowing they are okay. “Simply sharing that their loved one is receiving rehab therapy, sitting up in bed reading or watching television helps reassure families,” she said.

On the patient end, Ariana sees her job as delivering love and support. She does more than just convey messages from families to patients. She is happy to take the time to listen and learn about the patients. She became close with a resident who had just lost her husband of more than 60 years. “They both had COVID, and she didn’t have time to grieve,” Ariana said. “I went up to help her with her Amazon Alexa device, and I ended up talking to her for an hour. I visited her every time I was in to see how she was doing. I also talked to her family on the phone all the time.” She also prints out word searches and crossword puzzles to keep patients busy and active as they recover.  And she solicits messages of love from the outside world to brighten patients’ lives.

For Valentine’s Day, Ariana recruited everyone she knew to send messages to patients. She posted on Instagram and spread the word, sharing a request for messages of hope and love. The messages then poured in from all over — inspiring quotes, children’s drawings, and many warm and supportive messages. Ariana blanketed the building with them. In residents’ rooms, in the hallway—everywhere you looked, there were loving words. There were even notes of gratitude to health care and security staff.

Ariana plans to pursue a career in public relations and crisis management, and she’s gaining valuable experience. “I’m learning communication skills during a public health crisis. Dealing with the patients’ and family members’ day-to-day issues has taught me how to navigate many different personalities and requests while working with other members of a team.”

Sandra Mundy, Manhattan Administrator, recognized right away that Ariana had natural empathy and good instincts. “Ariana cares deeply for the patients and the families,” she said. “That helps her to be extremely involved and helpful. On one of her first days, we had a patient who was very anxious. Ariana was able to understand, with very little guidance, what this woman was going through — and connect with her.”

Just being a reassuring voice, whether in person or on the phone, is one of Ariana’s principal roles. “Families call because they’re concerned that they’re unable to visit. I can go up and talk to patients and bring comfort to both sides. The residents sometimes feel alone without visitors, but I tell them that their loved ones are thinking about them all the time.”

The New Jewish Home Makes News!

All of us at The New Jewish Home are thrilled that we were among the very first skilled nursing facilities nationwide selected to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

With over 600 doses administered to residents and staff at our Manhattan and Sarah Neuman facilities during the week of December 21st. 

The New Jewish Home featured in the New York Post

Rhoda Winkelman makes the cover of the New York Post!

The New York Post article details the first day of vaccinations at The New Jewish Home, including quotations from our staff and families.

The New Jewish Home featured in the New York Post


The New Jewish Home featured on WNBC News 4 NY

Urgency is being embraced by nursing homes like The New Jewish Home. New York is vaccinating at double the rate of the rest of the country.


The New Jewish Home featured on WABC

“500 doses of the vaccine are now being doled out at The New Jewish Home, that’s on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and they are focused on those high-risk elderly residents and also the nursing home staff first.” 


The New Jewish Home featured Univision Noticias

“Son seguras y recomiendo que se la pongan”: médico que recibió la vacuna contra el COVID-19.


The New Jewish Home was one of the first to receive the vaccine and thousands more vaccines are expected in NYC.


The New Jewish Home Featured on WNJU Telemundo

Residentes como Garry Damper recibieron sus vacunas en Telemundo y Univision.

THE COVID-19 VACCINE IS HERE!

We are partnering with Walgreens to administer the vaccine to our staff and residents over the next few weeks. We strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. MORE INFORMATION

Dr. Ruth Spinner, Senior Medical Director on the Second Wave, Staying Safe During the Holidays and the Flu Shot

Text transcript of the interview with Dr. Spinner

Hi, my name is Dr. Ruth Spinner, and I’m a geriatrician and Senior Medical Director at The New Jewish Home. As Senior Medical Director, I oversee the medical staff at our nursing homes, and I also put policies and procedures in place to care for and protect the older adults under our care. I was also appointed in the spring as director of our COVID-19 task force.

Read More

Helping Frail Cardiac Patients Get Well, Go Home and Stay Home

Marlene Konopolsky, who runs the Social Work Transitions program on our Westchester campus, provides expert care from the moment patients arrive for heart rehabilitation to three months after they are discharged home. “I’m essentially their care navigator for the next 12 weeks.”

A clinical social worker who has additional training in congestive heart failure, Marlene works with frail, chronically ill patients with various cardiac conditions who were admitted for short-stay rehabilitation. With the goal to reduce emergency room visits and re-hospitalizations, Marlene provides education and monitoring to help stabilize this medically complex group of patients. She has become an invaluable one-stop resource for these cardiac patients and their families, guiding them throughout their stay and during their transition back home.

“I’ll make sure they have all their medication,” Marlene said. “If they need transportation I’ll make those arrangements. I get involved with various agencies if the patient needs Medicaid, counseling services, legal help, advanced directives, or access to doctors.” She’ll even take on housing issues. “If a patient’s condition worsens at home, in most instances, we are able to bring the patient back to our facility instead of the hospital.”

How the Program Works

When patients with cardiac conditions are admitted after a hospitalization, the staff determines whether they are appropriate for the Social Work Transitions program. Marlene is involved in their care plan and makes sure their needs are met. She arranges and plans for their discharge, making sure they get all the equipment they need and coordinates their home care. She makes contact with the patient’s primary care physician as well as the cardiologist to ensure that an appointment is made within a week following discharge. While Marlene previously made home visits; these days she is more likely to drop in via phone or FaceTime.

The Patient Experience

Raymond Piedmont was a Social Work Transitions patient last year. He has been treated at The New Jewish Home’s Westchester campus several times, and his last discharge was in October 2019. “I had been laid up so long I forgot how to walk,” he said. “The people there were absolutely wonderful. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’m doing now. I can walk without a cane.”

Marlene was there for him throughout his stay and beyond. “She would pop in once in a while to ask, do you have any questions? Is anything I can do for you? Whenever there was a care team meeting with the doctors, Marlene would be there.”

After Ray’s discharge, Marlene came to his home several times. “She asked specific questions — do you need this? Are you able to do that? Are you getting around? are you climbing stairs? She was assessing my situation, even without me having to say anything.”

Over the past few months, Marlene has worked with post-COVID patients who received rehabilitation therapy. One of her patients, Vinicia Rosario, was recently discharged. “She was with us from the beginning, and she was very attentive,” said Vinizia’s granddaughter, Cindy Hidalgo. “She answered all our questions. Marlene keeps us in the loop about everything in regard to my grandmother’s care. She said, ‘I’m your eyes and ears and voice when the team is meeting, since family members can’t be there.’ She held our hands and guided us through the entire recovery journey.”

Marlene is very accessible to patients and families. They can depend on her if an issue arises. “Families are so overwhelmed when they bring a patient home from the nursing home, it’s reassuring to know they can just pick up the phone and connect with me,” she said.

Just recently, she relates, she discharged a patient on Saturday and readmitted her on Sunday. “I spent a lot of time on the case with the patient’s niece, guiding her through the process of readmission and providing emotional support,” Marlene said.

Even on weekends, patients in the Social Work Transitions Program and their families can count on Marlene to be there for them. Thanks to this unique program, these patients have access to the expertise of a caring social worker whose commitment to them doesn’t end when they leave The New Jewish Home.

Photo: Patient Vinicia Rosario, front row second from the left and Social Worker Marlene Konopolsky to her right with the patient’s care team and family upon discharge home

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