Nysha Recent News

After Round of Outstanding State Reviews, Hamaspik Group Homes Ready for New Year

September 17, 2015

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Before Rosh Hashanah, New Wardrobe, Staff Family Celebration Make Integration Right at Home

Getting superlative marks for the year behind you is a perfectly fabulous way of entering the year before you.

And at Hamaspik group homes over this summer, an upcoming new year never looked and felt better. Especially when no less than four of them scored high on New York State OPWDD audits this past August.

With hardworking managers driving all summer (and most, literally) to ensure that their charges had a wonderful season, followed by all necessary clothing (and other) shopping to ensure that the individuals entered the Jewish New Year feeling and looking good, it’s smooth sailing all across Hamaspik—from the tranquil waters of summer to the harbor of fall and beyond.

With the winds of successful New York State reviews filling your sails, of course.

A cut above

At the Wannamaker Briderheim Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA), Hamaspik of Rockland County’s youngest group home, the residents always felt at home.

Now, the very idea of integration and deinstitutionalization that drove the creation of the home, and all other equivalent homes, is also very much at home—especially at Wannamaker.

That’s because, what with the advent of the Tishrei holiday month, Wannamaker Home Manager Joel (Feish) Horowitz and staff literally went all out to get all the stuff needed by the “boys”—because that’s what is done at any other functional residential home.

And Wannamaker, as an IRA, is a functional right-in-the-middle-of-the-community home, now, is it not? In recent weeks, reports Mr. Horowitz, the full-time Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who service the gentlemen of Wannamaker took their charges out shopping to such Monsey retail mainstays as G&G, the Men’s Collection, the Shirt Place, and Chezky’s Shoes.

Tishrei, the month of no less than five holidays on the Jewish calendar, warrants a new wardrobe—especially since, what with the advent of fall, it’s a good time to update one’s wardrobe anyway.

Not only have the residents been decked out to look their sharpest come Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, but Manager Horowitz already has plans for Sukkos—during which, as astute Gazette readers will know—Hamaspik joins its greater community in the traditional family outings just about anywhere in the region that’s fun for families to visit.

These include, as of this September 8 writing, an appointment with a local esrog merchant.

Purchasing an esrog, one of the “Four Species” (of citron, palm frond, and myrtle and willow branches) used in ritual prayers come Sukkos, is an art form and adventure of its own, what with various Orthodox communities boasting their own intricate preferences for the esrog’s ideal shape, wrinkles, hue and more.

Annual memberships at the two nearby synagogues where the gentlemen are welcomed around the year with open arms have also been renewed, Mr. Horowitz adds.

What’s more, Wannamaker also has its Sukkos outing plans at least partially finalized—with tickets already purchased to a local play.  They also have an “appointment” scheduled for a Sukkos-time group visit to what the Manager describes as “one of nicest sukkahs in America”—the traditional branch-topped hut that, in this case, dominates the backyard of a local rabbi and draws crowds from near and far to see the far-above-average work put into beautifying it.

Making all that happen, both year-‘round and come Tishrei, are devoted DSPs Yechezkel “Chezky” Dershovitz and Yitzchok Yaakov Goldstein (who also doubles as the home’s unofficial, but remarkably talented, self-taught photographer).

They’re led by lead DSP Simcha Goldberger, who, according to Horowitz, “takes the whole operation very personally.” Goldberger has been witnessed returning parents’ calls late at night, he says.

No less dedicated to giving residents a community-integrated, choice-centered and family-life-based life at Wannamaker are Messrs. Dershovitz and Goldstein, along with live-in couple Mr. and Mrs. Moshe Yoel Kupcyk.

Exemplifying that ethos was the decision by Mr. Goldstein to celebrate the third birthday of his little boy at Wannamaker.

Upshernish (Yiddish lit. for haircut) refers to the traditional third-birthday rite for Jewish boys, before which locks are let to free flow sans contact with any scissors or shortening device.  Participants are invited to snip a few strands of hair from the head of the typically-excited lad, marking his formal passage from baby to boy.

After he had his official upshernish at the table of a respected local rabbi, young Goldstein further celebrated his among family—right at home at Wannamaker, by personally handing the gentlemen goodie bags.

That integrated world at Wannamaker (and indeed, all of Hamaspik), where disabilities are just part of ordinary mainstream life, was the world into which entered three auditors with the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) on Wednesday, August 26.

Besides emerging later to pen a report that read, in part, that “staff are caring, respectful of the gentlemen and assist them to achieve as much independence as possible,” the auditors “were very impressed,” Mr. Horowitz reports.

A good part of the auditors’ positive impression this time around derived from the fact that David, one of the residents, had recently enjoyed a private summer trip to the upstate resort town of Fleischmanns.

Two of the three auditors especially enjoyed the ensuing 20-minute conversation on all things Fleischmanns—area roads, attractions and all—not just because David has a knack for maps and geography, but because the two are from the Fleischmanns area.

Small wonder they not only felt right at home, but felt the sense of home felt every day by the residents of Wannamaker.

The auditors also took note of the newly-installed extra-safe fire-escape windows, not to mention the new couches, carpeting and brand-new interior paint job—and the fact that Wannamaker cook Mrs. Kupcyk’s previous career as a party planner was visibly evident in her remarkably organized food program and pantries.  Amazed, reports Horowitz, they half-jokingly asked her if she could do kitchen organizational consultations at least once a year in their own homes.

An audit gets personal—but it’s okay

On August 18, three OPWDD surveyors entered the ever-busy world of the Grandview Briderheim IRA.

Grandview is run expertly by Manager Joel Schnitzer, a disability-services veteran who began his Hamaspik career as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) for Hamaspik of Orange County’s Dinev Inzerheim Intermediate Care Facility (ICF), then moved on to serving as a Medicaid Service Coordinator (MSC) with Hamaspik of Rockland County.  Under his leadership, Grandview is home to eight beautiful human beings, most with low-functioning disability.

Day in, day out, Schnitzer and his team dispense tender loving care marked by the rigorous discipline professionally demanded of them as an OPWDD-supervised home.

Come in any morning or night, and you’ll be sure to find Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) Joel Braun, Shmuel Glick, Chaim Fisher and Levi Horowitz helping with dressing, feeding, medicating and otherwise caring for the young men who see Grandview as their home.

Rounding out that care team are cook Mrs. Fisher and overnight staffer Elimelech Friedman, who, together with their spouses, ensure that residents are well-fed and well-watched ‘round the clock.

This is the universe the officials experienced for themselves.

They encountered resident Yossi, like most Grandview residents, who has been at the group home since early childhood.  Due to the specific nature of his disability, he no longer has as much verbal ability as he did once—which, unfortunately, was not a lot in the first place.

As part of their experience assessing duties, the three engaged in a limited conversation with Yossi, endeavoring to ascertain his take on living at Grandview—whether his needs and individual desires are being met—and, equally importantly, if staff were providing proper care.

With Mr. Schnitzer on hand, the auditors got a poignant reminder of just what it is to care for non-verbal young people with low function—the love, calm and patience warranted and outright demanded in the face of persistent intellectual disability and the communication challenges that come with it.

Despite that hurdle, Mr. Schnitzer later tells the Gazette, Yossi is eminently well-cared for, with his staff well attuned to his personal proclivities, hygiene, cuisine and all—making sure he is bathed and cleaned every day as he prefers it, as well as fed the foods and drinks he likes, prefers and enjoys.

Another resident, Yitzchok, is by far the highest-functioning member of the gang.

Yitzchok was only too happy to introduce himself to Grandview’s visitors and show them his room, divulging by virtue of his innocent openness exactly what really goes on at Grandview every day—facts that are investigative gold to auditors but which, given Grandview’s record, only enhance the agency’s shining golden reputation.

The energetic young man gladly showed the officials his bedroom, making it a point to note that he not only has a roommate, but actively cares for him, too.  The auditors were happy to hear Yitzchok report that his wishes are responded to affirmatively, allowing him to take the lead in planning his days and making personal choices.

Amusingly, though, the visitors had to respectfully demur when Yitchok offered to provide safe long-term storage of their cell phones in his bedroom’s “prize box.”

Having gotten a first-hand feel for the care and respect the “boys” get at Grandview, the auditors turned their attention to the kitchen and the home’s food program.  Asking Mr. Schnitzer what time breakfast was served, the officials learned that the residents could take their morning meals “whenever they want,” reflecting currently OPWDD policy (itself reflecting national industry trend) emphasizing person-centered choices.  That philosophy puts personal independence as the primary variable in daily disability care decisions.

And now, they have yet another successful audit to prove it.

Suits Hamaspik fine

In like manner, Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Forshay Briderheim Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA), the agency’s first and oldest such group home, also passed an audit this August. An OPWDD inspector reported, among other things, that “the house is nicely maintained and provides a very comfortable setting for the nine gentlemen.”

That success was made possible by Forshay Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) Asher Benedict, Chaim Luria, Moshe David Klein, Menashe Mor, Chaim Stern and their better halves, led by Home Manager Mrs. Sarah Fischer.

Hamaspik of Rockland County fellow group home Concord likewise scored high on an OPWDD audit at the same time, with the constant hard work of DSPs Tzvi Cohen, Anshel Sternfeld, Elimelech Weinberger and Yaakov Weiss, and Manager Mrs. Shaindel Goldberger, bearing fruit.

All four audits also underscored the great ongoing backup work of IRA nurse Kate Sussholz, RN, agency psychologist Alan Blau, Ph.D., Maintenance Manager Israel Katina, Medicaid Service Coordinators (MSC) Yaakov Grunwald and Joel Schnitzer, and Director of Residential Services Moshe Sabel.

Whether executing yet another flawless end of summer, purchasing new coats and shoes, pulling off a series of successful audits, or just making residents part of your personal family life, Hamaspik caregivers are amply poised for launching into another year of caring.

And that suits them—and their beneficiaries—just fine.