Going to bat for seniors: JFCS health care advocates are resource who are there at each crossroad

Larry Goldberg speaks with gratitude about the people who help him navigate the medical system and cope with his illness — his wife, Nancy, his children, his friends, his nurses and his doctors.

Redwing Keyssar

He also has high praise for Redwing Keyssar, his health care advocate from the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

“Redwing has been with me all the way through,” said Goldberg, 80, “a resource right from the beginning who has a depth of experience that we did not have.”

Diagnosed with bile duct cancer in April, Goldberg is doing well in hospice care at his home in Tiburon.

“We knew who to call as soon as Larry was diagnosed,” said Nancy, 72, who is very involved in the Jewish community, just as her husband has been. “Seeing how helpful Redwing has been for Larry has comforted me.”

Health care advocates (also called care managers) aim to provide comfort to all they serve.

Rob Tufel

Available through for-profit agencies as well as the nonprofit JFCS, health care advocates accompany clients to medical appointments, explain treatment options, visit clients in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, arrange for in-home care, coordinate hospice services and provide emotional support. Fees vary, depending on services required.

“People need support from the beginning of a diagnosis, and a health care advocate is there at each crossroad to support people in their decision-making,” said Judith Keyssar, who has used the name “Redwing” ever since age 19, when it came to her in a dream in which she turned into a red-winged blackbird.

A registered nurse with 20 years of experience in oncology, hospice and palliative care, Keyssar is the director of the Palliative and End of Life Care Program in a division of the S.F.-based JFCS called Seniors At Home. The health care advocacy program there has served 350 people since it began in 2008. She also is the author of “Last Acts of Kindness,” published last year. It is subtitled “Lessons for the living from the bedsides of the dying.”

Rob Tufel, 52, knows all about those lessons. Not only is he director of adult services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay — linking seniors in need with health care advocates — but he also had to get an advocate for his father this past summer.

“I was a perfect example of why someone needs a health care manager,” Tufel said. “My parents were living in Florida when my father fell in June. My mother has physical limitations. My sister lives in New York and I’m here in the Bay Area. Because of my job, I knew about health care managers, and I called the JFCS in Florida.”

Tufel flew to Florida as often as possible. The care manager he hired visited his father in the rehabilitation center and later at the hospital after Tufel’s father took a second tumble. Then the care manager connected Tufel’s father with home care services, and later, after Tufel’s father died, he helped the family with funeral arrangements.

Rita Greenwald Clancy

“We all worry about our parents, but we can’t always be there, even if we live close by,” Tufel said. “So often people just don’t know what to do.” This winter, Tufel’s department will offer public workshops for adult children with aging parents.

The care management program at the JFCS/East Bay currently works with about 100 clients. Jean Stein, 64, of Piedmont, called on them two years ago when her mother, Rose Ishler, was ill and Stein’s husband, Philip Stein, was undergoing cancer treatments. Rita Greenwald Clancy served as the care manager for Stein’s mother until her  death in March 2010.

“It’s more than a fulltime job to keep track of everything,” Stein said.

Dr. Michael W. Rabow with Larry and Nancy Goldberg at the UCSF Medical Center

A retired writer and editor, she works with the literacy program at Temple Sinai in Oakland. “When I think about what it’s like for people who don’t live 10 minutes away from a parent — well, I don’t know how they do it. I can’t say enough about Rita. Having a steady, warm-hearted person to help saved me.”

Clancy, who speaks Hungarian and Russian, also supervises other care managers and serves as care manager for the Holocaust survivors program at the agency. “We are involved in our clients’ needs and we support the families,” Clancy said. “If a client doesn’t have family, we walk the journey with them.”

The S.F.-based JFCS and the East Bay JFCS both serve non-Jewish as well as Jewish clients.

Anne Smith, 78, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Berkeley, hired care manager Barbi Jo Stim after Smith’s husband, Charlie, took a bad fall in December 2009. He died in January 2010.

“Barbi Jo walked me through everything, held my hand — I could not have done it by myself,” Smith said. “We are not Jewish, but I never felt I was being helped any less. The JFCS knows what they are doing and they are very good at it.”

The Goldbergs agree.

Members of Congregation Emanu-El, Larry and Nancy have been married 31 years, and they have four grown children and four grandchildren.

In February, the Jewish Community Relations Council honored them with the Tom Lantos Memorial Humanitarian Award.

Jean Stein (right) and her late mother, Rose Ishler

Larry is a JCRC board member and on the regional board of AIPAC. Nancy is co-chair of the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking and works with the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, and she is also president of the S.F.-based JFCS board.

She believes that because of the JFCS and the Symptom Manage-ment Service at the UCSF Medical Center, Larry has lived longer than some may have expected — and has a better quality of life.

Larry added that because of his health care advocate and others going to bat for him, he has peace of mind. And that allows him to concentrate on other endeavors.

One of those endeavors has been making a series of videotapes for JFCS — about living with and dying of cancer.

“The tapes will be used as educational materials,” he said. “Death is a part of life. People should plan ahead.”

Health care advocate information: for the S.F.-based JFCS, (415) 449-3777, info@SeniorsAtHome.org or www.SeniorsAtHome.org; for JFCS/East Bay, (510) 558-7800, information@jfcs-eastbay.org or www.jfcs-eastbay.org.

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.