The CEO and President of RiverSpring Living talks to Nancy Griffin about elder justice, intergenerational interaction, and River's Edge, New York City's first life plan community.
Daniel Reingold, M.S., J.D. is a passionate advocate for older adults. During his 30-year tenure at RiverSpring Living, he founded life-saving programs, including the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention and the HOPE Program (Healthcare Offers Permanent Employment)—a unique intergenerational program.
NG: Tell us about your background.
DR: I'm a baby boomer. My background professionally and educationally is that I have a Social Work degree and a law degree. I was a social worker and then later, I went back to school and was a lawyer and represented nonprofit organizations. One of which was the Hebrew Home, and they asked me to come on board as CEO. Along with marrying, my wife it was one of the two best decisions I've made. And I've been here for 32 years. I consider this to be one of the greatest jobs in the world.
NG: Please share some highlights and history of the 100-year-old Hebrew Home at Riverdale.
DR: The Hebrew Home at Riverdale was founded in 1917. In 1950, we purchased an 18-acre campus in Riverdale in the Bronx, right on the Hudson River overlooking the Palisades. It is one of the most glorious spots, not only in New York City, but really in the world. The view is of the Palisades, which has been preserved forever as a conservancy.
Over the past 70 years, there has been a steady pattern of growth building more buildings for older adults. Then beginning about 10 years ago, we developed a strategic plan, which called for us to significantly expand our home care and community services. We rebranded from the Hebrew home at Riverdale to RiverSpring Living, because we're now serving about 15,000 people who live in their own homes throughout the New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and on our campus, which expanded a few years ago. The 32-acre campus houses The Hebrew Home along with middle-income housing and affordable housing. Soon, we will have New York City's first life plan community, River's Edge.
We also have two brand new affordable housing programs for older adults. Each of the buildings is 177 apartments, located in the East Bronx. Today, we serve about 18,000 New Yorkers every day—98% of them are below the poverty line. Hence our nonprofit mission.
NG: Tell us about the new life plan community you are building RiverSpring Living.
DR: Because of zoning laws, there were no life plan communities in New York City. So, 10 years ago—when we first purchased the property next door—we embarked on a lengthy and challenging initiative to get the zoning changed in New York to permit a life plan community. That took about five years. Neighbors were doing what we call NIMBY (Not In My Backyard), but we did end up coming to an amicable solution with our community that allowed us to build River's Edge.
NG: Talk to us about RiverSpring Living’s progressive intergenerational efforts.
DR: RiverSpring Living has pioneered many intergenerational programs over the years. Unfortunately, in our society older adults are not revered like they are in other countries. We segregate from the rest of the population. Younger people are disadvantaged without connection to older adults. They miss the wisdom.
We've developed a strong programmatic relationship with the College of Mount Saint Vincent, a wonderful, small parochial liberal arts college next door to our campus. Nursing students do their rotations here. We hire students to work here and have a robust volunteer program. However, Covid put many of these programs on hiatus.
Another intergenerational program we've done that is very exciting is the HOPE Program, which stands for Healthcare Offers Permanent Employment. In a nutshell we set up a high school for learning disabled students within our nursing home. These students were challenged navigating a big scary New York City high school. The kids actually go to high school in the Hebrew Home and are mentored by our residents, who really adopt the youngsters and provide them with life skills and support. The deal we make is that if they graduate with the high school equivalency diploma, they are guaranteed a job.
The HOPE program has the highest graduation rate of any Alternative High School in New York, and the lowest absentee rate. As one of the young ladies said to me, “When I missed school in New York, nobody even noticed I was gone. But when I missed one day here, all my residents wanted to know if I was okay. It meant so much to me.”
So, it's a wonderful program and we’re looking to expand it in a way to build a nursing aide training program as an opportunity for young people to get into the career track of taking care of older adults.
We are also looking into the possibility of graduate students living in our middle-income independent living building, RiverWalk Senior Apartments. In the past we have had the college students living in our buildings while they were doing renovation work. It's such a natural coexistence because older adults don't want to be segregated by age and they have so much to offer these young people.
NG: Another first for RiverSpring Living is the Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection. How does the museum and art studio contribute to the community and engagement?
DR: That's a wonderful question. It occurred to us that 98% of the art owned by museums is in storage. So, we considered borrowing pieces of art from museums, which was extraordinarily cumbersome. We discovered that there are more tax benefits for people donating art to museums than to a regular nonprofit, even though we're tax exempt. So, we petitioned the Internal Revenue Service and explained that we wanted to build a museum here. They ended up allowing us to be designated as a museum.
Once people found out that they could donate art to the Hebrew Home and get the same deduction as a museum and their art would be up on the walls and not in storage, we began to collect some beautiful extraordinary, museum-quality art. There are pieces from Picasso, Diego Rivera, and Chagall—5,000 pieces of museum quality art.
The impact it has on our residents and staff is profound. When a new piece goes up, it becomes a centerpiece for conversation, and in some cases embarrassment. An exhibit of male nudes had the ladies standing around those paintings expressing their disgust, but not moving. Our art studio is an extension of the art program, and it’s a busy, active place. People come here and fall in love with the art. They decide at the age of 80 or 90 to pick up a paintbrush. The art studio is also invaluable for residents with dementia and memory loss. The paintings become a vehicle for engagement.
During Covid, our curatorial team put together slideshows of our art program took it floor to floor to engage the residents in a virtual exhibit. It's really become a multi-faceted amenity to the Hebrew Home and RiverSpring.
NG: You founded the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice—the nation's first comprehensive shelter for victims of elder abuse. Tell us about how it is expanding around the country.
DR: When I look back on my legacy (and hopefully that won't be for a while), this will be the one that hits home. The Center for Elder Justice is named in honor of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland, which had the vision to to fund it in 2005. As I mentioned earlier, my background is law and social work, and it occurred to me in the early 2000s that there were victims of elder abuse, and it's hidden away. And frequently it's the caregiver or another trusted person who is the perpetrator. So, I began to talk to a colleague of mine who had experience as a prosecutor. I asked her what happens to victims of abuse if the perpetrator was caught or if they're trapped in a in an unsafe situation, and she said that there were no shelters. That was when the light bulb went off. I said my goodness, we have room, we can create a shelter.
There was no focus group. There were no marketing studies or consultants hired to do a feasibility study. We just said, let's open a shelter and the premise is that as long as there's an empty bed (and we can always find a bed) we can bring somebody in on an emergency basis to protect them while the legal system works to get the perpetrator out to get the victim back home. This turned into an extraordinary program—we now have four full-time attorneys, two social workers and a public health expert, and are engaging in research and assessment evaluation.
We also created the Spring Alliance (Shelter Partners Regional International & Global) where we donate and share best practices to communities around the United States. Every Community needs a shelter like this. Just to give it a sense of context: there are 1.6 million people living in nursing homes, and over two million people living at home who are victims of abuse every year. This is clearly a life-saving endeavor.
The program has served 180,000 days of emergency elder abuse shelter for victims of elder abuse, who live in the community over these last over these last 16 years. I don't know where these folks would have gone. The goal ultimately is to send them home, but many people decide to stay because it's the first time they've ever felt safe. It’s one of the greatest sources of Pride for me because there's no question in my mind that many of these folks who were victimized at times for years on end would have lost their lives ultimately to the perpetrator.
We just received a terrific grant from the Federal Government to study its efficacy. We just completed a study with the Rand Corporation which also evaluated and affirmed the efficacy of the shelter model. So, it's been a great ride and we're going to keep going and growing it in directions that right now we don't even know.
NG: Please share something personal about yourself.
DR: I just became a grandfather. My little granddaughter is about the most important thing in the world. The holiday of Grandparent’s Day was actually created at the Hebrew Home in 1961, and in 1986, Congress, recognized the Hebrew Home as the creator of Grandparent’s Day. So, I'm excited to be celebrating, Grandparents Day on the 2nd Sunday of September as a real true grandparent.