By N. Perlman
Eldercare II, Achiezer’s long-awaited eldercare conference, has created a buzz all around town as it makes its first return after a hiatus of three years. For this article, we join Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender, Achiezer’s president; Milka Keilson, conference program director; and Eli Weiss, development coordinator, for a sneak preview of this monumental event.
What is the Eldercare Conference?
Rabbi Bender: The Eldercare Conference is a state-of-the-art event that is designed to present the frum community with every bit of knowledge, information, and chizuk that exists in the field of eldercare . . . all on a silver platter. It’s a venue for people to meet and learn from foremost experts in every sphere, as well as to get a handle on the myriads of goods and services available to them.
Why is there a need for this? Can’t people just get the information they need on their own?
Rabbi Bender: Eldercare is one of the most complex challenges that people face in their lives. Just the other day, we received a call from a woman who said, “Hi, I don’t live in the New York area, but my parents do. My father can’t drive anymore, my mother can’t take care of the house anymore, the two of them sit at home all day, and what do we do with them?”
Yet another call: A fellow in his early seventies had a stroke, and now he’s back home, half-paralyzed. He can’t drive, he can’t work, he can’t feed himself, he can’t even sleep in a regular bed. There are yichud issues with nurses; there are shalom bayis issues as his wife tries to adjust to this new reality; his married daughter doesn’t know how to handle the constant requests that she leave work to drive him to every doctor’s appointment.
Adult children are grappling with everything: medical needs, insurance, finances, practical arrangements, psychological issues—and on top of all of that, there are halachic ramifications including the tightrope walk of doing all of this without neglecting the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim. I speak to these caregivers, and they tell me straight out—the responsibility is terrifying.
Is that who this event is for? Adult children whose aging parents require intensive intervention?
Ms. Keilson: Definitely, the main focus is on caregivers: children or relatives of seniors who require intensive care, or who are just starting to lose their independence. Many people whose parents are still healthy also attend, to gain the knowledge that they’ll need before a crisis hits. In addition to the numerous presentations geared to those primary groups, we will also be offering one crucial session for healthy people in their fifties and sixties, presenting very real things that they can do for themselves to protect their own future peace of mind—things like setting up estates and trusts and legally identifying their wishes with regard to long-term care.
This kind of conference has not been done anywhere since your original debut. How do you plan to make this event a unique and rewarding experience?
Ms. Keilson: This conference is different than the usual, because it’s built on real experiences and real feedback from real people. In addition to the feedback that we got after our last conference, we’re basing our presentations on the hundreds of eldercare-related questions that come into the Achiezer office on a yearly basis. We’ve also reached out to Mrs. Gittie Neufeld for help with the planning; her extensive, ongoing experience with her own parent makes her an invaluable resource. We know that if you’re giving up your Sunday to attend a conference, you want to hear something good—and so we’re doing everything in our power to create a conference that addresses real needs.
What kind of information will you be presenting, and in what format?
Ms. Keilson: We’re going to be reaching into every aspect of eldercare, using a variety of formats. Just to give you an idea: There will be a panel discussion featuring an eldercare attorney, an insurance expert, and a financial planner, which will address Medicaid, Medicare, estate planning, and more. We’ll be doing another panel about different living options: living at home with a home health aide, moving to an assisted-living center, moving in with a child . . . There will be a comprehensive presentation on dementia: recognizing the symptoms, knowing when and how to intervene, handling the parent/child relationship in such a situation, and more. There will be a session about getting support for the caregiver, and a session about handling end-of-life issues and critical care in hospital situations. The conference will close with a powerful keynote session by Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro and Rabbi Yaakov Bender, who will discuss the delicate balance between playing the roles of take-charge caregiver and respectful child at the same time.
Will people be able to attend all of the sessions, or must they pick and choose?
Ms. Keilson: Several of the sessions will run concurrently, but many of them will be repeated so that you can attend the ones that you missed. We’re also looking into options of recording the sessions and making them available online after the event.
Where do the vendors come in?
Mr. Weiss: In addition to the sessions, the conference will include a tremendous vendor showcase, including rehabilitation and managed-care centers; medical devices and services; home health providers; accessibility and safety products; insurance, legal, and financial companies; and more. Just by walking around, caregivers can gain a huge amount of information and ideas—from something as simple as learning that there is a service that delivers prepackaged medications divided into bubble-wrapped, dated containers, to something as life-changing as learning that there’s a company that can cut all the red tape involved in applying for Medicaid, cost-free. None of these vendors are there just to give out free pens and magnets; they’re there to introduce people to a product or service in an educational way. Each vendor is an expert in his or her field, and is ready to offer a wealth of information.
Is this conference geared specifically towards members of the Five Towns/Far Rockaway community?
Mr. Weiss: Achiezer’s focus is certainly on the Far Rockaway/Five Town’s community, but it’s definitely not exclusively for them! The location that we chose, the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel, is conveniently located close to Brooklyn and Queens, and the information that will be presented is not location-specific. At our first conference three years ago, we had attendees from all over the place—as far away as Florida and Canada—and they all found it to be relevant and worthwhile.
Definitely sounds worthwhile! Is there any final message that you’d like to convey?
Mr. Weiss: This type of event was done only once before, and the feedback that we got then was that it’s a “can’t miss” event. It’s a one-time deal; the knowledge that this one event offers is invaluable for anyone navigating this chapter of their lives. You don’t want to miss it.
Rabbi Bender: The common denominator that we hear from people facing this battle is a lot of helplessness, a lot of strife. Our goal in this conference is twofold: to provide people with chizuk and empowerment and also to give them the resources they need to deal directly with the challenges that they’re facing. Most of all, we want to show people how to handle this situation in the most positive way possible. We want them to know that eldercare is not a burden, it’s an opportunity.
The Eldercare II Conference is scheduled for December 28 beginning at 4:45 p.m. Register at www.achiezer.org/eldercare. Admission is $25 in advance, $36 at the door.