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A conversation with Arnold Balsam

Arnold Balsam, a 40-year resident of Teaneck, is the first Orthodox Jew to serve as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Teaneck’s Holy Name Medical Center, a Catholic institution. Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in 1925, Holy Name defines its mission as serving as “a ministry of healing, embracing the tradition of Catholic principles, the pursuit of professional excellence and conscientious stewardship. We help our community achieve the highest attainable level of health through prevention, education, and treatment.”

Balsam has been a member of the Holy Name board since the late 1980s, and has contributed his expertise as a Certified Public Accountant to the running of the hospital. Before retiring, Balsam was senior executive partner at Loeb and Troper, LLP, where he worked for 44 years. That New York-based accounting firm, with offices in Europe and Israel, has served not-for-profit and healthcare institutions, such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, UJA Federation, and American Friends of Ben Gurion University. Balsam’s four children grew up in Teaneck, attending local day schools, and his three married children live in Englewood, New Milford, and Teaneck. His grandchildren attend Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, and The Moriah School.

The Jewish Standard sat down with Arnold Balsam at his Teaneck home, where he lives with his wife Deborah, to find out more about his unique role as an Orthodox Jewish chairman of the board at a Catholic hospital.

Jewish Standard: What does the board do?

Arnold Balsam: The board is responsible for the running of the hospital. It’s responsible for the entire corporate governance, the actions of the CEO [the president], and it oversees all the activities of the institution. The board meets every other month, and the executive committee meets in the alternate months. There are also about seven or eight committees, such as the finance and budget committee and medical ethics committee, that oversee various issues. I am most involved with the finance and budget committee and the executive committee, but I get correspondence from all the committees. There are people who serve on committees who are not on the board; for example, Rabbi Lawrence Zierler is on the medical ethics committee.

J.S.: How did you get involved with Holy Name?

A.B.: My late wife [Elaine, who died in 1993] was in charge of the Community Mental Health Program at Barnert Hospital. One of her colleagues, Deborah Lynch, was the sister of Sister Patricia Lynch, who in the ‘80s was coming back [to Holy Name] as president and chief executive officer, and looking to upgrade [the hospital facilities]. My [accounting] practice included health care and not-for-profit hospitals. Sister Patricia approached me and said, “We could use your services on the board as we try to restructure.” I felt it was an opportunity to give back to the community at large. So I started to participate and it became a very close relationship with the hospital. I felt I could serve the hospital, and I could serve the community.

J.S.: Have you used the services of the hospital?

A.B.: As a patient — I’ve been there. I’ve been in the emergency room and I’ve been a patient there a few times. I got a firsthand look at it…. It’s a fine hospital, or as they say now, medical center.

J.S.: How has the transition to a medical center changed what they do?

A.B.: There are extended patient services, ancillary services for the general public. There’s a cancer treatment center, and it’s a much more comprehensive hospital setting. The emergency room had undergone a major overhaul this year — about $20 million. The community feedback has been excellent. The service is quick, it’s comprehensive. The radiology service and laboratory services are right there near the ER, so the community has been very happy about it.

J.S.: What are the major challenges for the hospital?

A.B.: An ongoing challenge is to encourage new young doctors to be active in the hospital and to admit their patients there…. Since we have the capabilities now of servicing patients in so many more areas, we want to attract additional doctors who will bring their patients in and have the benefit of these services. We have significant outreach programs to encourage doctors to come to Holy Name.

We have a program for physician practice development, for doctors who are starting out, or for those who have a practice and would like to join a group within a hospital setting. We’ve assisted in establishing offices and groups and the administrator services so they can practice medicine. The hospital has made considerable investment in this. We’ve just engaged a new chief medical officer, Dr. Adam Jarret, who will be starting in September. One of his primary functions is to work with physicians to encourage them to come aboard. We provide guidance so they can operate within physician group practice settings.

J.S.: How has Holy Name reached out to various groups in the community?

There’s a Korean medical program where they’ve established a relationship with the community, primarily in Fort Lee, and there are Korean doctors on staff.

There’s outreach to the Jewish community. We have many observant doctors on staff now…. You see a lot of yarmulkes walking around. There’s a Sabbath room, stocked with food and drink, where we make it quite comfortable for visitors who need it.

When [the hospital holds] events they always have kosher food. They’re very accommodating. There was always a willingness, and we just had to point them in the right direction and say “this is what’s needed.” When we spoke about a Sabbath room years ago, I expected a little closet or something where someone could come and sit down, and when I came back and saw what there was, it was significantly more.

We also have a summer program for Touro [College of Medicine] medical students who will work along with doctors as a learning experience.

J.S.: Former chairman of the board Ed Ruzinsky was also Jewish, but you are the first Orthodox Jew to serve as chairman of the board. How do you feel working in a Catholic environment?

A.B.: There are other Jews on the board as well. I don’t feel that I’m in a Catholic environment per se. I feel that I’m in a friendly, dedicated, medically progressive environment. The people I meet, I really cherish them. I appreciate their dedication. There is an openness to everyone, whatever the need is.

J.S.: Are there medical ethics issues that specifically reflect the Catholic mission?

A.B.: They don’t perform abortions. In strict Orthodox Judaism they would not favor abortions either. Their mission is to serve, and to serve in accordance with the Catholic mission. I haven’t seen anything that differentiates that from good medical practice.

I’ve seen very compassionate and dedicated attitude towards patients without regard for cost or [insurance] coverage. What really impressed me is the dedication towards the mission of healing — for everyone.

J.S.: How has your professional expertise helped Holy Name?

A.B.: It’s an ongoing process. The finance, budget, and personnel committee meets every month. For example, now we are in the process of refinancing the bond issue, so we meet with the bankers, administration, and other board members to take care of this.

J.S.: How has the recession affected the hospital?

A.B.: Our charity care costs have increased significantly. We’ve been monitoring it; it’s due to [the increasing number of] non-covered patients…. We haven’t had to scale back any projects. It’s a very well-managed hospital, very efficient. Our costs are low, through what I consider excellent management, but while we have low costs, it does not in any way impede the services. There’s a very low turnover in staff and people are very dedicated.

J.S.: Have they computerized all patient records?

A.B.: At every bedside there are computer screens where inputs are done. That’s one of the things that lead to our efficiencies. Doctors have a new computerized system for charting.

J.S.: How will the national health-care legislation affect Holy Name?

A.B.: The recent postponement of the Medicare cut was helpful. They were going to cut Medicare by 21 percent. But we don’t yet know the full effect [of the health-care legislation]. If there’s going to be more coverage for those who didn’t have coverage before, then that’s a positive. If rates are going to be cut, that’s a negative. What will happen with Medicaid rates? It’s a little early to tell. My concern — will people be discouraged from going into the medical field? Will we be getting the best and the most qualified in the field of medicine?

J.S.: What else would you like people to know about Holy Name?

A.B.: Holy Name is a medical center that has evolved over the 85 years of existence into a modern facility that can provide excellent services with a dedicated staff and dedicated nursing. But should it require expertise outside their capabilities, then they do not hesitate to refer patients elsewhere.

In the past 10 or 15 years the upgrading of the facility and the equipment has made it a modern, capable center where one can receive treatment in the most compassionate manner. The physical plant has really been upgraded. It’s an average of nine years old. You can think of it as a nine-year-old hospital.

We should feel very comfortable in knowing there’s a hospital like that in our community. Whether it’s for emergencies, or for being admitted for planned things like babies, outpatient treatment, or cancer treatment, it’s all there for you. It’s a very special place where patient care comes first.

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Arnold Balsam is the first Orthodox Jewish chairman of the board of trustees of Holy Name Medical Center. Miryam Wahrman
 
 

Community mourns Sidney Schonfeld

Philanthropist called ‘a very caring individual’

Sidney Schonfeld, who died Sept. 15 at the age of 87, is being remembered by many in the same choice words: “mensch,” “friend,” “gentleman”; “kind,” “caring,” “principled.”

The Tenafly resident left Nazi Germany with his family at the age of 12, knowing no English. But as he told The Jewish Standard in 2006, on the occasion of his receiving the Shem Tov (good name) award of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, he quickly taught himself the language, eventually attended City College at night, and started a successful food-importing business. This gave him the means and the time to be generous to worthy causes.

In his eulogy at Schonfeld’s funeral at Temple Emanu-El last Friday, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner said, “Sid was a giver. He always had his hands in his pockets and was helping out someone or some group in need. He would confide in me, ‘Rabbi this person came to me. They are in trouble. They need help. They are getting divorced, paying for day school. It is hard for them to make ends meet.’”

Kirshner said he would reply, “‘Sid, you are a tzaddik. You give to any and every organization that has the letter J in its initials. UJA, JNF, UJC, JTS JFS, USCJ, JCC, JCRC, and many more. Sometimes you can say no, Sid.’

“It was like I was speaking a language he had never heard,” Kirshner continued. “He said to me, ‘Rabbi, he needs help. I can. I will.’”

Ed Ruzinsky “knew Sidney through his caring affiliation with JFS” — Jewish Family Service, one of those J-initial organizations. Ruzinsky, a JFS board member for more than 30 years, said that “from the day he got involved he was committed to the mission of JFS and he lived it…. Until his health began to deteriorate he would be at board meetings. Sid was a trustee to the end of his life.”

He was also, Ruzinsky said, “as close to the perfect gentleman as you can find — a mensch, unequivocally devoted to our community, a very caring individual and a great human being.”

Sandra Gold, the president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, worked with Schonfeld on the boards of the JHR, the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and in other ways.

“When he undertook to resolve a need in our community he was tenacious,” she recalled. “He took it upon himself to create a scholarship fund at the JCC for students who could not [afford to] go to college without some help. He was relentless in his pursuit of raising enough funds to make a difference.”

Also, she said, Schonfeld “knew how to be a good friend…. I do not know a kinder soul. He was an elegant, old-world, sensitive human being who resonated with the people around him…. You just have to look at the causes that he undertook. He just couldn’t look the other way. He felt compelled to reach out his hand and help.”

Gold and her husband, for whom the Arnold P. Gold Foundation is named, promote “humanism in medicine,” the tradition of compassionate care, and she was touched by the fact that Schonfeld “never failed to go out without a ‘Humanism in Medicine’ pin on his jacket.”

And like Ruzinsky, she was struck by the fact that Schonfeld did not let age and illness keep him from communal work.

“As Sid grew more frail,” she recalled, “he still managed to come to allocations meetings at UJA and board meetings at the Jewish Home. He put himself second. He continued to work on behalf of those in need.”

Gold called him “a terrific role model,” adding, “he could have put his feet up and watched television and leave [communal work] to others, but he continued to advocate for those in need….

“When I think about Sid,” Gold said, “I think about 1. what a good soul he was, and how kind, and 2. how much he loved his wife Hilde.”

That love was legendary. Hildegard Schonfeld died 10 years ago, and those who knew him say that he missed her every day.

Emanu-El’s Kirshner noted that Schonfeld had donated a Torah to the shul in her memory, and “each week, as we would march the Torah around, a smile would go from ear to ear, not only because it was a reminder of his tradition but also because it was a reminder of his wife.”

At Schonfeld’s funeral, which was attended by some 500 people, Kirshner said, “We can be consoled that, after 10 years, Sidney is in Hilde’s embrace.”

Schonfeld is survived by his son Gary and his wife Elisabeth; his daughter Victoria and her husband Victor Friedman; and five grandchildren, Jared, Remi, Zachary, Matthew, and Sam.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Sidney Schonfeld Fund at Temple Emanu-El or the Schonfeld College Scholarship Fund at the JCC on the Palisades.

Arrangements were by Gutterman-Musicant Funeral Directors in Hackensack.

 
 
 
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