In 1985, Miriam Yenkin was nominated president of the Jewish Federation of Columbus (now JewishColumbus) and, upon her acceptance, became the first woman to serve in that role. Before, during, and after her time as president—for 60 years, in fact—Yenkin has been passionate about her community, and over the decades has developed strong and enduring connections with it. So it was an unusual and discomforting feeling for her when, earlier this year, she didn’t know where to turn for help.
Yenkin’s younger sister, Sharon (named changed for privacy), suffers from a condition called “primary progressive aphasia,” a neurological disorder that impacts a person’s cognitive function and speaking abilities. Symptoms tend to worsen with time, and Sharon’s case was no exception. She lived alone in an assisted living facility in Columbus, and her day-to-day capabilities were declining steadily enough to require a move to a safer and more secure residence. In February of 2020, Sharon’s son and daughter decided to transition their mother to a facility in Cincinnati—near to where her son lived.
Yenkin naturally supported the idea of having her sister closer to immediate family: family visits would become more frequent; care consultations would be more direct; and the level of assistance would progress as necessary. What she could never have anticipated, however, was the invasion of a global pandemic.
When COVID-19 arrived in the United States, it not only imposed new risks on each phase of Sharon’s transfer from Columbus to Cincinnati, but also accelerated time tables for the move. Another complicating factor was the newness of the Cincinnati facility. Prior to the outbreak, Yenkin and her family liked the modern “just built” aspect of the community. After the outbreak, interacting with an administration that was navigating its “youthful” headaches—including staff shortages—became problematic. These developments all combined to make Yenkin increasingly concerned for her sister’s well-being.
In this moment, all Yenkin wanted was reassurance, but where could she turn to find it? Cincinnati was 100 miles away and she didn’t have any connections to health professionals there. The facility administrators were focused on the safety of their patients and their staff. And communicating with her sister over the phone was becoming more and more difficult. That’s when Yenkin’s nonprofit instincts suddenly kicked in; she picked up the phone and dialed.
“Because of my relationship to Jewish Family Services in Columbus,” said Yenkin, “I called [CEO] Karen Mozenter, and I said, ‘Could you help me? Do you know anyone in Cincinnati who might be able to have a conversation and help me learn more?’” Mozenter, in turn, called Liz Vogel, the chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of Cincinnati. Vogel contacted June Ridgway, the director of AgeWell Cincinnati—and it was Ridgway who called Yenkin, directly.
Remembering her conversation with Ridgway, Yenkin said, “She is the one who said, ‘I will connect you with Katie—she is actually a social worker in the field, and she’ll be able to help you.’” Ridgway was referring to AgeWell Cincinnati Social Worker Katie Moore.
“I do think Miriam felt better after being able to talk with me. She had more direction, more open lines of communication. And through that, her nephew was able to get better access and be a caregiver. He's got his eyes on her more often, which is great.”
— Katie Moore, LSW
“Miriam told me her sister had said some troubling things,” Moore said. “Things like, ‘They won't let me do this,’ or ‘They're making me do that.’ And nobody was able to get in to check on her. Not even her nephew.”
“Katie was very, very helpful. I gave her the background,” Yenkin said. “And she actually reached out to her own contacts and connections.” Moore didn’t have any experience with the care facility her sister had moved to, but people she knew and trusted did. “I reached out to a couple of my community partners,” Moore said, “and I was able to get a feel for how they viewed this particular facility.”
“Katie called me back, and she was very professional,” remarked Yenkin. “And she said, ‘I want to tell you, it's only based on three experiences, but I'll let you judge what you think about this.’ And then we had a really nice conversation.” Overall, the feedback Moore provided was very positive, but there was one issue that required further discussion. “We talked about the questionable feedback to determine whether or not that was relevant to the situation,” Moore explained. “I also reminded Miriam that this was a new facility, with new staff, and that they had learned from that experience. Since the majority of the feedback was positive, she felt there was something to work with—to keep her sister there—and have the lines of communication more open with this particular place.”
Moore assured Yenkin that she was available for further consultation. “Katie let me feel comfortable to call her back, but I didn't really have to,” Yenkin noted. Sharon’s prognosis has not changed, but she is calmer now. “The person who was in charge of memory care arranged for my niece and nephew to have a call together with their mom every other week. And they gave my nephew the privileges of an aide so he can actually go in, rather than having to be six feet away, outside on the patio.”
Currently, Sharon’s son is visiting his mother twice a week and her daughter phones from Cleveland every day. Sharon gets regular calls from a group of old friends, who report to Yenkin that her sister always seems relaxed. Sharon also gets frequent calls from her protective older sister in Columbus, whose love and compassion helped to shield her during a vulnerable time. “I think I got good advice from Katie,” Yenkin said with a smile.
“I do think Miriam felt better after being able to talk with me,” Moore said. “She had more direction, more open lines of communication. And through that, her nephew was able to get better access and be a caregiver. He's got his eyes on her more often, which is great.”
Yenkin maintains that what she experienced went beyond the individual connections she made with staff members in Columbus and Cincinnati; she believes what she experienced was a profound “connecting” of the two communities—two communities “reaching out in a very professional, warm way, saying, ‘Yes, we have the time.’ And that was helpful to me,” Yenkin concluded. “And it was calming.”
If you know an older adult who could benefit from the peace of mind a licensed social worker can provide, please reach out to AgeWell Cincinnati. The experts at AgeWell Cincinnati can connect you to 68 services through one number: 513-766-3333.