Up Front: Health Notes
A roundup of news items from across the Jewish health world.Gurwin At 25: Still Growing
An aerial view of the Gurwin campus. Next month, a six-bed palliative care center is set to open. Photo courtesy of Gurwin
An aerial view of the Gurwin campus. Next month, a six-bed palliative care center is set to open. Photo courtesy of Gurwin

Gurwin At 25: Still Growing

The vision was to open a Jewish-sponsored, not-for-profit nursing home in Suffolk County where one’s more traditional, kosher parents and grandparents would feel at home.

With the help of an $11 million loan from UJA-Federation of New York, what came to be known as the Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Commack, L.I., was born 25 years ago this week.

“It was supposed to be a community-based nursing home,” said Herbert Friedman, the executive vice president since its inception. “Today, we have matured into a nationally renowned center. We have become a model for others. I have someone visiting next week from India who is putting up a similar campus with different levels of care.”

Throughout the years, Gurwin has always received a four or five star rating (five is the top rating) from CMS, the national agency that rates nursing homes.

What began as a four-story, 300-bed nursing home on 14 acres has expanded over the years to 460 beds, 120 of which are for short-term rehabilitation staffed by 40 therapists seven days a week. The campus has grown to encompass 34 acres housing four corporate entities with a budget of $105 million. It has more than 1,300 employees serving more than 1,600 people daily.

Each expansion was a natural progression. For example, in 1999 an additional 160 beds were added, 80 of which have piped-in oxygen and suction for medically complex patients.

Just a year earlier, a homecare agency was opened that today cares for 800 people in their own homes.

In 2001, an assisted living complex was opened that today has 201 apartments for seniors. A 12-station dialysis center is on site.

Next month, a six-bed palliative care center is scheduled to open in the nursing and rehabilitation center that will provide aggressive management to relieve a patient’s suffering. Friedman said palliative care is given during the course of an illness, even when the treatments are aimed at a cure. And the care and services provided are designed to create a caring, tranquil environment.

In two or three years, Friedman said he hopes to break ground for a senior living complex adjacent to the current campus that would have 280 apartments ringing a man-made lake with a fountain in the middle. He said a marketing firm is being hired to “conduct focus groups to see what the public wants — what’s going to sell.”

A sketch of the plans envisages several villas on the complex that will have four large apartments on each floor, each with corner views. There would also be central core area with two or three kosher restaurants (including a formal dining room), a pool, spa, fitness center, locker rooms, game rooms and a lounge.

Once completed, Friedman said, the Gurwin campus “would be a place where you move when you are well and then you age in place. We would be providing a full continuum of care.

The Gurwin campus is located between the Commack Library and the 33-acre Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center.

Residents in the assisted living apartments receive free Y membership; some regularly use the Y’s Olympic-size swimming pool and attend shows staged in the Y’s 600-seat auditorium.

“There’s a nice synergy,” Friedman observed.

Stewart Ain

Site For Breast Cancer ‘Freebies’

Bethany Kandel learned firsthand that it’s very expensive to have cancer.

The journalist and author was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 50, just after dropping off her oldest son at college. Previously in very good health, she felt at the top of her game. After the shocking diagnosis, she had surgery, chemo and radiation. Along the way, she got a free wig from the American Cancer Society. When she mentions the wig to others, many are surprised and comment that they wish they knew such things were possible when they were undergoing treatment.

Last year, she created the website Breastcancerfreebies.com, to help women with breast cancer to gain access to financial and also emotional assistance that was available to them for free, from cosmetic kits to weekend retreats. She had the site operating just in time to honor her fifth year “cancerversary,” marking five years post surgery. As a writer, she had been thinking of doing a book on breast cancer but soon realized that there was so much that had already been written. 

“It was a natural,” she explains, about coming up with the idea for the website — she describes herself as a lover of bargains and a veteran coupon clipper. Before long, she collected a full range of resources. Her site offers free yoga classes, sunscreen, a fly-fishing weekend (no experience necessary), housecleaning services, transportation, a book called “My Cancer Mommy,” that helps women talk to their children about breast cancer, and college scholarships for the sons and daughters of women dealing with breast cancer and for women with breast cancer who want to go back to college.

While some of the groups offering freebies are large and national, like the American Cancer Society, many others are small, initiated by the daughter or sister of someone who suffered from breast cancer.

“This site is my way of paying it forward in gratitude to my health and in thanks to all the good people who helped me.” She suggests that those who use the website consider making a donation to the nonprofit organizations featured “so they can keep giving freebies to others.”

Sandee Brawarsky

Rabbis Enjoined In Fight Against Genetic Diseases

The Pfizer pharmaceutical firm and the Philadelphia-based Victor Center for the Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases at Einstein Medical Center have established a nationwide “Screen for Nineteen” project, which will encourage members of the Jewish community to be screened for 19 Jewish genetic diseases.

As part of the initiative, educational kits have been sent to rabbis at synagogues, college campuses and other organizations across the country. The kits include tips and talking points on how clergy can educate congregants about genetic diseases, brochures, pocket cards on screening for young couples, posters, and information about a “Gene Screen” app.

The target age for pre-conception screening is 18-44.

“Our clergy educate the community in many different ways, including premarital counseling,” said Dr. Adele Schneider, Victor Center medical director. “We believe that the support of rabbis, chaplains and cantors nationwide is instrumental in spreading the word about the importance of screening, before pregnancy, to help ensure people know their carrier status for Jewish genetic diseases.”

Tay-Sachs and Gaucher disease are the best-known and most common Jewish genetic diseases.

Among other serious rare autosomal recessive genetic diseases for which persons of Jewish heritage are more likely to be carriers than the general population are Bloom’s Syndrome, Canavan Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Familial Dysautonomia, Familial Hyperinsulinism, Fanconi Anemia Type C, Glycogen Storage Disorder Type1A, Joubert Syndrome Type 2, Lipoamide Dehydrogenase Deficiency (E3), Maple Syrup Urine Disease, Mucolipidosis Type 4, Nemaline Myopathy, Niemann-Pick Disease Type A, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Usher Syndrome Type 3, Usher Syndrome Type 1, and Walker Warbug Syndrome.

The Victor Center offers genetic counseling and pre-conception screenings for these diseases.

Pfizer last year introduced a treatment option for adults with Type 1 Gaucher disease, Elelyso (taliglucerase alfa), a plant cell-based enzyme replacement therapy, which is manufactured in Carmiel, Israel, by Protalix Bio Therapeutics.
For information: PfizerGaucherCommitment.com.

Steve Lipman

Emory Launches Genetic Screening For Ashkenazi Jews

(JTA) — Emory University introduced a genetic screening initiative for hereditary diseases in the Ashkenazi Jewish community.

J Screen, which was launched by the School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics at the prominent Atlanta university, is a multi-state initiative that will provide screening through a saliva test taken at home.  The program also will offer private counseling to Jewish couples and individuals to determine their risk for passing on genetic diseases to their children.

The services are available in Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
J Screen is a collaboration of clinical geneticists, the business community and nonprofits.

Geneticists have identified genetic markers for 19 genetic diseases that are more common in the Jewish community. JScreen also offers an expanded panel for couples of mixed descent and interfaith couples, which screens for a total of 80 diseases.