Ira Shulman, Kivel executive director and CEO, poses with Kivel resident Bessie Wang, who affectionately calls him 'The Boss.'
Ira Shulman, Kivel executive director and CEO, poses with Kivel resident Bessie Wang, who affectionately calls him ‘The Boss.’

After a “surreal” week following the announcement that the Kivel Care Center is closing, Kivel staff members are passionately working to find new homes for residents. To date, about a dozen residents have left the Valley’s Jewish nonprofit skilled nursing facility, according to Laura Lelakowski, Kivel chief operating officer.

Patricia Hann, Gimel Unit manager, said the atmosphere at Kivel since the Feb. 25 announcement has been “quite surreal.”

“We never thought this would happen,” she said.

Hann, who began work at Kivel in December 1987, is among several employees who have been there more than 20 years.

“So many of us thought that … we’d retire with Kivel” or even stay longer. “We even had our room picked out and everything.”

Last week, employees purchased more than 200 lottery tickets, hoping a win would save the facility. “We lost, obviously, because we’re still moving.”

“Everybody is really pulling together, and so far I think it’s going quite smoothly,” Hann said. “We’re here to make sure the residents are placed in a good place.”Now that the reality is beginning to sink in, staff members are starting to look for jobs – Kivel is holding job fairs on its campus for its employees – but their main focus is working with families, case managers and social workers to find residents a new place to live.

Other facilities throughout the Valley have been “incredibly cooperative in trying to create space” for Kivel residents, according to Ira Shulman, Kivel CEO and executive director.

One facility in Sun City has offered to create a community of 26 Kivel residents, Shulman said, if Kivel can provide the staff members to support it. The only problem is the location, which would mean a long commute for many staff members.

Many residents were “stunned” when they first heard that the care center was closing, Hann said. “They’re just now thinking about what’s going on and talking about it.”

About 50 of the 150 residents attended a residential council meeting last week to ask questions and express concerns. “I think that, more than anything, has helped them accept this,” Hann said. “It’s a small community that we have here.”

Staff members are identifying unique qualities of each resident to share with the next facility, Lelakowski said. For instance, one man likes to see the Diamondbacks schedule posted on the bulletin board.

“The little things that we don’t think about, that we just do,” explained Lelakowski, who has worked at Kivel for nearly 24 years. “We want to make sure that our residents are taken care of as much as possible, so we are sending that information on.”

When Bessie Wang, a Kivel resident for four years, was asked what she likes best about Kivel, she replied, “Everything. It’s home, sweet home.”

Larry Kantor, who moved to Kivel in February from another nursing home, said he enjoys the Jewish environment, something that didn’t exist at his former residence.

“I love this place, it’s a shame they have to close it up,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another place in the city that can compare.” His son, who lives in Phoenix, is helping him look for a place to move.

The target date for the closure is the end of April, Lelakowski said. “But obviously we’ll care for every resident until the very last one leaves.”

It’s important to have a time frame, she explained, because dragging on the closure would create more stress for the residents, family and staff.

This article first appeared in the March 7, 2008 issue of  Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.