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A parent or spouse suddenly suffers a debilitating stroke or heart attack and requires home health care. Where should the family turn?
Many families thankfully are never forced to consider such questions. Others, though, are not as lucky and feel overwhelmed by the new situation thrust upon them, not knowing where or to whom to turn for advice.
The Jewish Press recently spoke with Avi Cyperstein and Adina Berger, director of marketing and director of patient services, respectively, for InterGen Health, a relatively new home health care agency that prides itself on its caring and customer-friendly service. InterGen, which started operations in June 2008, employs approximately 500 home health aides and services patients throughout New York City’s five boroughs and Nassau County.
The Jewish Press: It’s probably natural for people to worry that home health aides won’t treat their loved ones with the same devotion and care that they would. How do you address that concern?
Cyperstein: I’ve had families who will ask to meet the aide before we start anything and I will put the person in my car, drive to the family’s house, and sit down with the family and patient to go through any questions they may have and see if they hit it off.
We want to make the transition from “Oh, my God, what do we do?” to “Wow, this is really working out!” as smooth as possible. Essentially we view ourselves as an extension of the family. We want the patients and families to know that we’re here for you.
I should add that all our home health aides are licensed, certified, and trained in the ADLs – activities of daily living – which means assistance with eating, feeding, clothing, bathing, washing, showering, moving, transporting, toileting, basic housekeeping, walking, etc. We also do background checks on every one of our aides to make sure they are legally allowed to work in the United States, have no history of Medicaid fraud, etc.
How many of your patients are Orthodox, and do you make an effort to send Jewish home health aides who better understand Orthodox Jewish culture and practices to these patients?
Cyperstein: It’s hard to know how many are Orthodox. I think maybe 30 percent. [Regarding the second part of your question,] there’s very few Jewish home health aides. So what we try to do is find someone who has experience working with Orthodox patients. We are constantly being surprised by people who come in to apply for a job and we’ll ask them about their previous experience, and they’ll say, “What do you mean? I worked for this rabbi in Brooklyn for 12 years. I know everything about kosher and Shabbos.”
Right now we have an Irish aide who has been working for an Orthodox family for almost a year who takes the patient to shul, checks the times for Minchah, and on Shabbos speaks to the patient about the parshah. The aide is becoming so knowledgeable in Jewish law that visitors to the family sometimes ask, “This aide is Jewish, right?”
Do you often get complaints from patients that their home health aides are cold or “have an attitude”?
Berger: Often? No. It happens, but when you buy a bunch of grapes, you’re going to have some good grapes and some bad grapes. Most of the time, the bad ones are one or two and you get rid of them right away. The same thing with home health aides.
So the bad grapes are discarded?
Cyperstein: Well, if it’s a significant complaint we’ll take them off our roster, but [often the complaint is more subjective]. For instance, a family will complain to us that the home health aide is not talkative; we need someone who’s more talkative.
I got a request a couple of weeks ago for a Spanish-speaking home health aide who’s young and not fat. I sent this e-mail to my office and they thought I was joking, but this was the family’s request and we got it. We have to meet the family’s needs.
I once got a request for someone who knows how to play chess. The patient liked to play chess and needed an aide who could play chess with him all day, so we found someone. We kind of roll with it. There are a lot of general type of requests – someone who’s talkative, who’s good at cooking, who can help, etc. – but we get funny and interesting ones too.
If Congress passes President Obama’s health care plan, how will that affect you?
Cyperstein: It’s a good question. I honestly don’t see how it can affect us tremendously, but it affects the customers.
Berger: We’re constantly sending letters to the Senate to make sure the bill doesn’t get passed because they’re going to keep cutting the number of hours [that patients are entitled to under government-provided insurance], which ultimately affects us. But it’s the patients that are affected by it the most.
How do you monitor your aides? How do you know if they’re doing a good job?
Cyperstein: For one, we have someone in our office whose job is to make sure that the home health aides are at their appointments and are clocking in properly. Part of her job is also to periodically call up people we’re servicing and ask them about their home health aide: How is the service? Is there something that we can do better?
A lot of people, especially foreigners who don’t have family close by, feel like they’re almost at the mercy of the home health aide, so if there’s something they don’t like they’re afraid to call us and complain. So I’ll go to the family member or patient and say, “Here’s my card; call me with any questions.” When you open it up, a lot of the time you will hear about things that can be changed for the better.
We like to be proactive, not reactive. We view ourselves as family. We’re here to help.
Those desiring more information about InterGen can visit www.InterGenHealth.com or call 718-346-1000.
About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).
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