Beth Sholom Parkside at sunset

Leadership during a time of crisis: Morris Funk, Beth Sholom Senior Living

When you hear the phrase “senior living,” you probably have a certain picture painted by your mind’s eye. Perhaps you have a lived experience of a loved one or a volunteer memory or even recent recollections of news stories during the pandemic. What’s typically missing from those associations that connect senior living with faith-based values or with nonprofit status.

Beth Sholom, which is Hebrew for “House of Peace,” opened in Richmond’s Fan district neighborhood more than 75 years ago. It has since moved to the West End to accommodate its growth and facility needs, which today include an independent living apartment complex, two assisted living communities, a healthcare center and an outpatient rehabilitation clinic. 

While Beth Sholom has come a long way since its post-World War II origins, the pace of change has accelerated even more dramatically since the onset of the pandemic.

“For us, the pandemic was an eye-opener – not because of the pandemic itself – but with all the little pieces of the system that provide services and care for seniors that got turned completely over,” Morris Funk, CEO of Beth Sholom, said. “You couldn’t deliver the same way as before – food, housekeeping, transportation – all those things changed completely overnight, and we had to figure out on our own how to provide services, in a different, safe way, with the same high quality we’re known for.”

Funk took over Beth Sholom a few years ago, filling the shoes of a CEO that had a couple of decades under his belt. But there’s nothing like a pandemic to push your leadership action plan forward.

Funk and his team went into communications overdrive in March 2020, delivering weekly (sometimes twice weekly) communications through printouts to residents and emails to loved ones. In addition to honing his communication chops, Funk also was serving as a translator of sorts – helping to take CDC guidance and communicate information to residents in a way that was clear and easy to understand, all in an effort to keep everyone safe.

“We were fortunate to have access to an infectious disease specialist,” Funk said. “We had very few cases compared to people down the block. There was less of an impact from that standpoint.”

Beth Sholom has proactively reacted to the pandemic, by mandating the vaccine for employees before federal mandates and by hosting vaccination clinics for residents across Beth Sholom’s properties. As of mid-September, Beth Sholom had a 100% vaccination rate, and any staff who have religious exceptions are required to wear N-95 masks when interacting with patients.

“We took a stance before all the officials came out. It’s the right thing to do and we want to provide safe care here for everyone that is on campus,” Funk said. “We want to give family members piece of mind because this pandemic is not going away.”

And it’s that very care, passion and desire to do what’s right that make us love our nonprofit community. In addition to the wellbeing of Funk’s residents, he also strives to ensure the staff are taken care of. For example, come Thanksgiving, every single staff member will get to head home with a turkey in hand to celebrate the holiday.

The staff appreciation and general operations of Beth Sholom are supported by capital campaigns and community donations. And as healthcare treatments and technology advances, costs increase, and so does the need to fundraise as a nonprofit. While there is a bottom line to any organization, nonprofit or not, it’s the heart and passion of its leadership that leaves the greatest impact.

“We’re not much different than for-profit organizations, but when you look at the core mission of the organization – when decisions need to be made, we’re not worried about shareholder return. We’re making decisions about long-term survival and the people we serve,” Funk said.

Beth Sholom Senior Living has experienced an unprecedented financial impact due to costs associated with fighting this pandemic while continuing to provide exceptional care. Consider donating, or learn more on its website or Facebook page.

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