Jewish Family Services connects older adults with social support services

JFS of St. Louis definitely uses a holistic approach.


Sarah Levinson, Brian Byers and Bethany Goff – Photo by Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan, Special For The Jewish Light

Brian Byers is a Jewish widower who spent his career working as a paramedic in Texas. His job often meant transporting and caring for older adults with physical limitations. Byers moved to St. Louis last year to be near family after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Suddenly, he found himself in the same situation as many of the patients he used to assist.

“I never thought about it before,” said Byers, 69. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be fine. I’ll be able to get around and do everything I want to do.’ I’ve had to use EMS services a couple of times. I’ve fallen at times, and I just couldn’t get up. I was too weak. My brother and his wife noticed that I couldn’t clean my own toilet. And they wondered about the apartment where I planned to move in. Like if it was going to be upstairs or downstairs, and how many stairs I’d have to climb to do my laundry.”

Jewish Family Services

Earlier this year, Byers made a phone call that opened up a new world of freedom. That call was to Jewish Family Services (JFS) and the ElderLink assessment, information and referral service. The specialists at JFS connected Byers with numerous resources, just as they do every day for many other older adults in the St. Louis area.

The JFS ElderLink assessment team often gets calls from potential clients like Byers, or a caregiver who may be a family member or friend reaching out for lifeline.

“Usually, they’ll call and talk with our case manager,” said Miriam Seidenfeld, JFS CEO. “The case managers have a wealth of knowledge on all sorts of resources and other programs for the elderly. There’s definitely a growing need for assistance. It has been growing for a number of years, and it’s expected to continue for the next two decades.”

About 52 million people age in the United States are 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the next 10 years, seniors are predicted to outnumber children. Seidenfeld said caring for older adults is one of JFS’ most important services and one that’s consistent with Jewish values.

Jewish Family Services: Holistic approach

“JFS of St. Louis definitely uses a holistic approach,” she said. “We’re really proud of the work we do to make sure that we have all the things that Brian and others need.”

When a new client contacts JFS, the first step is to determine what services would best meet their living situation. It’s not a one-sizefits- all approach, said Bethany Goff, JFS older adult services director.

“We look at everything that may impact the person,” Goff said. “For example, is their housing secure and safe? Often, we find people can’t afford their living situation because their support system has changed, so they need to look for other housing options. Are they able to get transportation? That’s often a barrier to get to doctor appointments. We look at food insecurity, which is significant. For older adults, nutrition may start to deteriorate, and that causes other problems. And so we look at things holistically and comprehensively to make sure we address all the areas a person needs help with.”

For Byers, one of the first needs was fairly basic: keeping his apartment clean and tidy. JFS arranged for an aide from its Homemaker Program. Nearly 150 other St. Louis area older adults use this service. JFS matches the client with a professional, vetted aide who will handle light housekeeping and other chores.

Miriam Seidenfeld is the CEO of Jewish Family Services. Seidenfeld said caring for older adults is one of JFS’ most important services and one that’s consistent with Jewish values. – Photo by Bill Motchan

“They found me a homemaker through AW Healthcare,” Byers said. “She comes once every two weeks and she cleans my house for four hours. It has made a huge difference. My house looks fantastic. That’s when I invite somebody over right afterward.”

Byers said his homemaker aide also takes care of his laundry. That’s not insignificant because the washer and dryer at his apartment building requires negotiating stairs, which can be precarious.

“She comes in and she goes right to the laundry and she sorts it,” he said. “Usually, I have a lot of it after two weeks. She vacuums for me and she cleans my kitchen and straightens everything up. It usually is a little cluttered by the time she gets here.”

Many older adults like Byers want to live independently, and JFS offers a support system to help them achieve that goal. They do it by providing a connection to other services, according to Sarah Levinson, St. Louis NORC manager.

“St. Louis is filled with so many wonderful community resources and opportunities,” Levinson said. “It’s a partnership, listening, finding out what gets the person excited. Once we’ve taken care of things like making the bed, doing the laundry, then we can focus on what makes you feel good. We know socialization and reduction of isolation plus physical health and mental health are important. In our conversations, we’re always listening to what Brian is interested in and trying to connect him with that. We also looked at congregations that might be the most appealing to him.”

For some older adults, meal preparation is a challenge, but Byers enjoys cooking for himself. His homemaker aide will run to the grocery and do some shopping for him if he needs something.

Being on a fixed income, he takes advantage of another JFS service: the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. He also stops by the Mirowitz Center at Covenant Place every Monday to pick up prepared food via Meals on Wheels.

“Sarah helped get me involved with Meals on Wheels,” Byers said. “It’s really nice. I get a variety of things to eat, and that’s my dinner. It could be a salmon dinner, meatloaf or beef brisket. They’re good-size portions.”

Another Jewish community service — the Jewish Community Center — has been significant for Byers and is directly related to his physical well-being. Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder. Byers is an upbeat person who’s determined to remain active. Exercise is one of the best options for him.

“Exercise is the one thing that will help stave off Parkinson’s,” Byers said. “It helps me with my balance a great deal, too. So I get on the bike for about 45 minutes three times a week at the J. I found out that the J has an agreement with United Healthcare, and they covered the cost of my fitness center membership.”

Some older adults with United Healthcare Medicare plans have access to the company’s Renew Active no-cost fitness program. The J joined the Renew Active program recently and it is available to United Healthcare clients with Medicare Advantage coverage.

The resources and connection points available to older adults from JFS can make a real difference in quality of life, Byers said.

“It has enabled me to function, and it’s enabled me to be active in the community as much as I can,” he said. “This program had made my life very possible, and it has made my apartment home. It’s been a godsend.”

For information about JFS resources and services for older adults, call ElderLink at 314-812-9300.