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Healthcare Heroes

She Became a Guiding Light at a Time of Pain and Darkness

Rabbi Devorah Jackson

Rabbi Devorah Jacobson

Rabbi Devorah Jacobson came to JGS Lifecare as its director of Spiritual Life in 2001. And, for the first 19 years or so, she came to work each day knowing exactly what her job was and how it would be carried out.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic reached this facility last March … well, she still knew what her role was, but she had to continually revisit that question about how to carry it out, because the answer had the potential to change seemingly every day.

“Every day, I would ask, ‘what does it mean to be a chaplain in a long-term facility during this time?” she told BusinessWest. “In the midst of the pandemic, when many of our residents are sick, many are going to the hospital, and many are dying, and staff are being called upon to work long hours and do things they weren’t necessarily doing before, like post-mortems, and where they’re risking their own health and lives every day they walked into the building … I’m observing all this and asking myself, ‘what is my role as the spiritual leader of this institution?’”

To say she would find new — and impactful — ways to answer that question would be an understatement.

Indeed, over the course of the past seven months, Jacobson has been a source of comfort to a number of constituencies, including staff members, residents, and their families. And she has done this through a number of means, everything from donning PPE and visiting sick and dying residents with COVID to rallying community organizations to send staff members meals of gratitude; from enlisting crisis therapists and mental-health counselors to offer staff free confidential counseling to creating prayer and inspiration cards for spiritual support; from helping raise awareness and funds for JGS’s Employee Assistance Fund to moving furniture, on at least one occasion.

“I’m part of the team,” she explained. “And I made a pretty quick decision — to be truly part of the team, 365 days a year, we do what we’re called upon to do.”

It is sentiments like this that prompted Susan Halpern, vice president of Development and Communications for JGS, who nominated Jacobson, to write that “our heroes are people we look up to and admire for their extraordinary actions and achievements. They are people we wish to emulate. Devorah’s countless acts of caring and loving-kindness, her concern for others, her efforts seeking justice for all, make her a standout candidate for the prestigious Healthcare Heroes award.”

“I’m part of the team. And I made a pretty quick decision — to be truly part of the team, 365 days a year, we do what we’re called upon to do.”

Indeed, as she talked with BusinessWest at a small table outside the Julian J. Leavitt Family Jewish Nursing Home — a nod to the precautions being taken to keep all those inside the facility safe — Jacobson repeatedly pointed toward the building and said, “the real heroes are in there.”

She was referring to the frontline workers who confronted a ferocious outbreak of COVID-19 in the early spring that would ultimately claim 66 lives and leave staff members fearful of what might happen to them, but still committed to carrying out their jobs.

In many ways, she pivoted within her role, from spending the bulk of her time with residents and families — handling everything from Jewish programming to pastoral care, including one-on-one visits — to now devoting most of it to those staff members fighting the COVID battle but also confronting the many other issues of the day.

A plaque has been placed outside the Julian J. Leavitt Family Jewish Nursing Home

A plaque has been placed outside the Julian J. Leavitt Family Jewish Nursing Home to honor those residents of the facility who lost their lives to COVID-19.

“Yes, I was continuing to meet with residents, although they were very frail and very sick, and yes, I was continuing to be in touch with family members, because they were unable to come into the building — I was able to give them a sense of how their loved ones were doing,” she recalled. “But much of the focus shifted to the staff.”

And it has remained there, months after the height of the tragedy, because the need remains — and is significant.

“I was just involved in a conversation with a nurse,” she said while speaking with BusinessWest. “She took me aside and said, ‘now that COVID has passed, many of us are dealing with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I’m not sure what kind of help we need, but we need some help.’”

She has been providing such help, and in several ways, one of them being help in securing counseling for the many staff members impacted by the crisis.

“It was quite clear, as I was visiting the units and talking to staff, that there was a lot of trauma,” she recalled. “So what I wound up doing, with the help of a lot of great friends in the therapy world, was put together a therapy initiative for our staff. I had a list of about 30 mental-health counselors, trained in trauma and crisis counseling, who made themselves available for phone, Zoom, or otherwise, to be available for up to six hours, for free.

“I started making matches,” she went on, adding that maybe 20-25 staff members took advantage of the program. “Some of these people got sick, so for some of them, it was when they got back and had gone through all they had gone through with their own illness.”

Each day, she would arrive at the facility and ask herself how she could carry out her role, how she could help. And seemingly each day, there was a different answer.

It might be creating a new prayer and inspiration card — one of them says simply, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.” In response to George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, she held an all-campus moment of silence and urged individuals and the organization as a whole to seek ways to defeat bigotry and racism. In response to an on-campus arson attempt, she spoke up against hate crimes and anti-Semitism. On more than a few occasions, she helped box up the belongings of residents who had died as a result of COVID-19.

While Jacobson’s recollections of the past seven months and thoughts about her work certainly resonate, comments from others about the comfort and support she provided speak volumes about her impact during this time of crisis.

“My only regret was that I could not hold my mother’s hand. Devorah held her hand for me. She let me say goodbye to my mother … she was there to bridge the gap. It is because of Devorah that my journey was so peaceful.”

Halpern forwarded this comment from a family member: “Devorah went in to see my parents every day and she called me every day to give me updates. My only regret was that I could not hold my mother’s hand. Devorah held her hand for me. She let me say goodbye to my mother … she was there to bridge the gap. It is because of Devorah that my journey was so peaceful.”

Halpern also shared an e-mail from Lola White, an LPN and unit manager at the Leavitt Nursing Home, which was sent to her unsolicited. “Throughout this pandemic,” it read, “Devorah has always been there and ready to help in any way she could.

“One day, I was attending to a resident who lost the COVID battle,” it continued. “She immediately asked me, as she always did, if I was OK. Next thing I know, she was suited and booted, by my side, helping me. Before she helped me, I felt defeated. Her acts of compassion for me and every other staff member in the facility made it easier to cope … She set up meals, counselors, and even called and texted staff that were out sick or had a sick family member … I am looking for a way to thank her for everything.”

Needless to say, many people share that sentiment.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Adam Berman, president of JGS Lifecare, announced that Mary-Anne Schelb has rejoined the JGS Lifecare team as director of Business Development for the Western Mass. market.

“We are very happy to announce the return of Mary-Anne Schelb to the JGS Lifecare campus,” Berman said. “Mary-Anne worked with us several years ago as our director of Sales and Community Relations and, in her own words, feels as though she is returning home. Mary-Anne brings a great breadth of experience, knowledge, and understanding of business development, sales, and customer services, as well as a wide range of key community relationships that will support her success in this new and expanded role. We are excited to have her back on our team.”

Prior to returning to JGS Lifecare, Schelb led marketing operations at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Ludlow. In her prior role at JGS Lifecare as director of Sales and Community Relations, she developed strategic partnerships and spearheaded the efforts that succeeded in making Longmeadow a dementia-friendly community. Prior to that, she headed up sales, marketing, and community relations at Monastery Heights Assisted Living in West Springfield.

Schelb is very active in numerous community organizations. She is a Rotarian, a board member of the East of the River Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the West of the River Chamber of Commerce, the Retirement Marketing Directors Assoc., the Western Massachusetts Eldercare Professionals Assoc., the Women Business Owners Alliance, the Western Mass. Elder Care Conference steering committee, and the Tri-County Partnership, just to name a few.

She began her career with an accounting certification from St. John’s School of Business and worked in the mainstream until continuing onto a more wellness-based path as a Holistic Health Practitioner, holding master/teacher certifications from the International Center for Reiki Training. She is also a certified cranial sacral therapist in Profound Neutral from the Neurovascular Institute.

“We are thrilled to have Mary-Anne back,” said Susan Kimball Halpern, vice president of Development and Communications. “Not only is she an expert in her field, but she brings a tremendous rolodex of invaluable relationships and is highly respected by her colleagues and peers for her commitment to excellence and for advancing the well-being of the people she serves. Her positive energy and enthusiasm is not only contagious, but helps drive results.”

COVID-19 Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Over the last few weeks, in a generous show of support, several local organizations and restaurants have initiated fundraising efforts to sponsor Meals of Gratitude for the staff at JGS Lifecare. This outpouring of community support has a double benefit, supporting caregivers while also supporting local restaurants that are struggling due to forced closure of in-house service.

“During this COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants are being decimated, and our healthcare workers deserve so much support. These fundraising efforts are really taking care of two important fronts — lifting up our healthcare staff while also supporting our restaurants who are now reliant on take-out service to stay afloat,” said Michael Hurwitz, owner of Pizzeria Uno, who delivered more than 70 pizzas to JGS Lifecare recently, providing meals to all staff on all three shifts. The pizzas were paid for by the Temple Beth El community of donors.

In addition, Rachel’s Table, a program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, sponsored meals from the Kitchen Restaurant and Nathan Bill’s Bar and Grille raised community funds to feed all three shifts assorted sandwiches.

Commitments have been made by the following organizations to raise funds to send future meals to JGS: St. Mary’s Church in coordination with the Kitchen Restaurant, Sinai Temple, Luigi’s Restaurant, and Indian Assoc. of Greater Springfield.

“It is wonderful to know that the community appreciates the work we are doing,” said Beth-Ann Kalinko, CNA at the Leavitt Family Jewish Home and Sosin Center for Rehabilitation. “We take our commitment to care for our residents very seriously. It has been challenging these past several weeks, and knowing the community appreciates our work is an important source of encouragement and support.”

COVID-19 Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Adam Berman, president of JGS Lifecare, issued a statement to update the community regarding COVID-19, which has infected 29 residents of Leavitt Family Jewish Home.

“JGS Lifecare is committed to doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to our residents and staff,” he said. “We strictly maintain and follow effective infection control procedures as mandated by state and federal regulations and have made many additional changes, including institutng a no-visitor policy to reduce the risk of infection.

“Up until early this week, we had a few isolated cases in which residents and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in the Jewish Nursing Home. In all cases, we took aggressive steps to quarantine anyone with close contact. Residents who tested positive were transferred to an isolation unit and cared for by a separate and dedicated care team. Staff members with symptoms were asked to remain at home and self-quarantine.

“Beginning this week, we proactively began the process of testing our residents throughout the facility. Late last night and early this morning, we were notified by the lab that we have 29 residents in our facility who tested positive with COVID-19. Some are experiencing only mild symptoms, and many more are stable and showing signs of recovery.

“We are working closely with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Longmeadow Fire Department, and other local authorities to take all possible actions to protect our residents, staff, and community. Any resident with a confirmed case of COVID-19 is being moved into our isolation unit and treated by a designated COVID care team. We will also continue to perform tests on all our residents until we feel confident we have firm control of the situation.

“To help our clinical staff remain focused on taking care of our residents, we have created a robust communications team. This team has been directly contacting the families of all our residents several times a week to keep them informed. To protect resident confidentiality, we are only able to speak to designated family members and have asked them to more broadly communicate with other interested parties if appropriate.

“We understand that this is a stressful time for everyone,” Berman concluded. “We will continue to work hard to serve our mission of providing the best-quality care for our residents and full support for all our families.”

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Thanks to a generous donation from the Perlman family, owners of Ocean State Job Lots, the staff at JGS Lifecare were treated to free groceries in an expression of gratitude for their commitment to the care of our frail elders, especially in these unprecedented times.

Over the course of the past few days, all JGS Lifecare employees have been invited to stop in a temporary grocery store and farmers’ market located in the Nirenberg Administration Building and its adjacent parking lot, on the JGS Lifecare campus. Each staff member filled three bags of dry goods and two bags of fresh produce to take home to their families. Staff selected from tall displays of peanuts, peanut butter, chicken broth, stuffing, turkey gravy, sweet and spicy baked beans, canned pineapple, and boxes loaded with organic lettuces and tomatoes, tangerines, bananas, avocados, zucchini, apples, grapes, grapefruit, asparagus, potatoes, and onions.

Ellie Riberio, a nurse at the Leavitt Family Jewish Home for four years, said that, “when I got the text last night that JGS was giving us five bags of groceries, I was in shock. I so much appreciate it. It helps me and my family out tremendously. The staff here has been wonderful throughout this ordeal that we’re going through. I cannot express how grateful I am for all that they’re doing to help us.”

“Our staff is remarkable,” added Adam Berman, president of JGS Lifecare. “They come to work each and every day to care for our most vulnerable seniors, many leaving their children at home with the additional costs of child care. Their kids are snacking all day, so we know that this free food will be of great benefit to them, and it is a wonderful way for us to express our appreciation for all that they are doing for our residents. We are continually seeking ways to show our gratitude and support during these trying times. We are indebted to the Perlman family for making this possible.”

COVID-19 Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Caleb Poirier, an LPN who spends his evenings caring for frail elders at the Leavitt Family Jewish Home at JGS Lifecare in Longmeadow, is a consummate team member — in more than one way.

After serving in Afghanistan, Poirier continued his military commitment in the U.S. Army Reserves. With his unit, he has been called to duty to support the medical teams in New York during the COVID-19 crisis. Once again, he is on the front lines in support of our country.

“Caleb has compassion, kindness, excellent attention to detail, and a quirky sense of humor, four qualities that are imperative as a nurse,” said Shannon Wesson, director of Nursing at JGS Lifecare. “He will be an amazing asset to his team.”

Wesson called Poirier “a true healthcare hero, as are all the others in healthcare who report to work daily and care for our sick and frail. We will welcome him back home post-deployment and celebrate his dedication, when we can all be together post-COVID-19.”

JGS Lifecare joins the local community in thanking Poirier and many other healthcare heroes for caring for the sick and frail at their greatest time of need, and wishes him and his unit safe travels and a safe return home.