According to its website, the Birmingham, England Jewish community's Andrew Cohen House senior residence/nursing home, a part of Birmingham Jewish Community Care, was officially opened by H.R.H, Diana, Princess of Wales in May 1996 and "meets the religious and cultural needs of people of the Jewish faith through its observance of the Sabbath, festivals and the provision of strictly kosher food."
But the British government's care facility watchdog, the Quality Care Commission, found that care given by the Andrew Cohen House was awful – so bad that in February it ranked only one star, the lowest rating possible, and was given two warning notices that could have led to the facility being closed.
The QCC's report found that the Andrew Cohen House, "breached the Health and Social Care Act 2008 in relation to the care and welfare of people, safeguarding people from abuse, management of medicines, staffing, supporting workers and assessing and monitoring the quality of the service," the JC reported.
Now the facility has made some marginal improvement, but even so the QCC lists it as "requires improvement" in every category of care and management its inspections cover.
(The full QCC inspection report filed last month for dates in late May can be viewed here.)
And this begs a question: why would a small nursing home run by a Jewish community to take care of its own elderly and disabled be so poorly and so dangerously operated?
The answer, I think, can be seen by other Jewish community nursing homes elsewhere – homes that often have similar issues, even if the local government hasn't yet caught them.
Unlike what Judaism professes to preach and teach, Jewish elderly are very often warehoused and shunted aside out of sight and out of mind.And that allows the operators of these nursing facilities to get away with doing a less-than-excellent job because, essentially, no one is looking.
In the US, in most locations the state inspects once per year during a specific time window, and nursing homes of all affiliations are adept at temporarily increasing staffing and making cosmetic changes to coincide with those periods to help mask what their regular care levels are.
Over the years, I've spoken with various state ombudsmen, nursing home patient advocates, placement social workers, gerontologists, etc., and asked the same question: which nursing homes are good, which are bad and is there one that you recommend?
Not one professional I asked has ever recommended the Jewish nursing homes in my area, and some openly warned not to send patients to them.
And while each professional had particular nursing homes they were very worried about (most not Jewish community run, to clear), all agreed that the best facilities were either small private group homes, community nursing homes located in small rural areas where the employees are often caring for their friends' parents or grandparents or their own, or nursing homes run by religious orders and in which the church members played a strong daily role.
Jewish nursing facilities almost always lack that.
For example, in the facilities I'm most familiar with which has facilities in two closely neighboring cities, I several times watched board members enter the building for a board meeting but need help finding the auditorium. I repeatedly watched the entire board come to a board meeting, meet and then leave without ever seeing even one resident or walking the care floors. In any given week, outside of the volunteer who led Shabbat services and me, the only community people in the building (other than those few who came to visit friends or relatives living there) were the parents of an old friend of mine. They essentially ran the auxiliary, and would come in the evening to work in the auxiliary's closet of an office.
Compare that to the church homes the professionals recommended. In those homes, dozens of volunteers from the church community were in the facility every week, visiting patients and helping with their care.
For whatever reason, Jews don't usually do that. And that leaves nursing facilities in the hands of often mercenary administrators with no direct connection to the Jewish community. Their primary concern is the financial bottom line, in part because that is very often the board's primary (or only) concern. These administrators need to be able to jump from one facility to another, one city to another, and what gets them better paying jobs at larger facilities is, unfortunately, often their ability to manage a facility's financial bottom line and deal with staff. Care of residents is often third or even fourth on the list of priorities.
Is this what happened in Birmingham? It appears to be. And as bad as Birmingham is, it is just one of many problem nursing homes run by community's like ours.
That isn't to say all Jewish nursing homes are bad (they aren't). But if the Jewish community really wants to be kind to its elderly and disabled, it needs to do more than write checks and do photo-ops. It actually needs to care and to show that care every day.
Can the Jewish community do this?
So far, I've not seen any indication that it can, but I'd love for it to prove me wrong.