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For the past few months this Blog has made it very clear that the executive and board leadership of the JCA should step down due to their financial malfeasance and lack of transparency.  Their profligate spending, lack of accountability, extraordinarily high overhead, inability to generate significant public support, and the miniscule amount of money that is made available to Jewish agencies other than the Valley of the Sun JCC and the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus is in itself cause for the JCA to be put into receivership.

While the focus of this Blog has been on financial issues it is now time to demonstrate just how ineffective and insidious the incompetence of the JCA truly is when it comes to their self-appointed role as the community’s planning agency.  In this role, the JCA professes to know what the needs and priorities of the Jewish community are and how to address and meet those unmet challenges.  Let’s test that premise by looking at the issue of senior services and issues affecting the Jewish elderly in the Valley.

The front page story in the May 21 issue of the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix was “Senior study seeks community input”  https://tinyurl.com/lvq98x3.  It is hard to imagine anyone in the Phoenix area who would disagree that this community’s commitment to the Jewish elderly has been anything other than shameful.  So learning that the JCA is commissioning a study to find out what the community thinks about its seniors seems, on the surface, to be very appropriate.

The problem is that the JCA identified Jewish seniors as one of its top three priorities about 18 months ago.  And even then it was a proverbial day late and a dollar short.  The Kivel Campus of Care had closed the region’s only Jewish sponsored skilled nursing facility several years earlier because of a lack of financial support from the community.  The Senior Center was in danger of being shuttered when Beth El Congregation wouldn’t make an in-kind contribution of space that the synagogue had previously been paid for but for which funds were no longer available.  And then largely through the ingenuity of the Jewish Family and Children’s’ Service the Senior Center was moved to Chris Ridge Campus, a Jewish-friendly environment though not a Jewish facility.  And to top it off, the JCA’s predecessor, the Jewish Federation, worked hard to convince the community that the Federation was a major force behind the transition of the Senior Center from Beth El to Chris Ridge.  Taking credit for the efforts of others has been a hallmark of the JCA and its predecessor organization for years.

So when the JCA finally figured out that the needs of the Jewish elderly should be one of its major priorities in early 2013 it might have been reasonable to expect that the organization would devote significant time and resources to the problem.   And one might expect that experienced and talented consultants with years of experience in Jewish gerontology would be found to quickly and thoroughly answer the question: “what can we do to improve the quality of life for our region’s seniors”.  Would that have happened we might actually be able to see some real solutions described in the Jewish News.  But that is far from where we are.

So where are we?  Well, according to the Jewish News in its May 21 issue:

“The Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix is in the process of conducting a study to help identify the needs of the Valley’s Jewish senior citizens. The next step is a community survey, which launches June 1.

For the past year, Janice Friebaum, a senior services consultant hired by the Association, has gathered information about senior care, including demographics and existing services for seniors, to help determine what needs are not currently being met. About 80 percent of the research, including interviews with a large number of service providers, clergy, agency personnel and community members; focus groups; and the development of the community survey, has been completed, according to Friebaum.”

Apparently Ms. Friebaum was hired by the JCA 15 months ago to take the lead in analyzing the needs of our senior population and formulating recommendations about what the community should do to make their lives better.  And after 15 months Ms. Friebaum appears to have completed only 80% of her research.  And now she is getting ready to launch a community survey on June 1.

How long this survey will take to complete is unknown but what is known according to the Jewish News is that:

“Once completed, Friebaum will submit the study results and her recommendations to the Association’s Senior Services Taskforce, chaired by Richard Gottlieb, and the task force will evaluate them and then present recommendations to the Association board, likely in early 2015, on how to move forward.”

It appears as though it might be two years from the start of this work until recommendations are presented to the JCA board.  And what will happen to those recommendations?  Well, they will likely be discussed, debated and maybe even analyzed a little more.  But at the end of the day, whatever the report recommends it will undoubtedly require funding which has not exactly been the JCA’s strong suit.  And if the JCA leadership believes that even with a compelling rationale for support that the community will suddenly step forward to contribute significant sums of money to the JCA well that would be risking the welfare of the region’s Jewish seniors on a dysfunctional and impaired organization that has squandered its birthright as the central fundraising arm of the Jewish community.

And what about the judgment of Stuart Wachs whose hiring decisions have been nothing short of disastrous during his tenure at the JCA.  He was responsible for selecting Ms. Friebaum to lead the effort to analyze the needs and make recommendations about ways to assist our Jewish elderly.  That is a very weighty responsibility which the community might expect would be given to a highly experienced and well trained individual with considerable achievements and accomplishments in the area of gerontology.  And while Ms. Friebaum is no doubt an intelligent and committed individual she becomes another of Mr. Wachs’ inexplicable hires.

Ms. Friebaum’s resume is, by her own description, one that reflects “experience and expertise in an eclectic (but interesting) combination of professional areas”, her own apologia for what is a curiously rambling professional background with only minimal and likely accidental involvement with senior issues.

Her educational background includes a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Eisenhower College; an M.S. in Botany and Plant Ecology from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville; and an M.A. in Jewish and Holocaust Studies from the University of Chicago.

Prior to being hired as a consultant in the area of Jewish seniors and the elderly by the JCA Ms. Friebaum’s professional experience includes the following chronology of questionably short stints at positions that do not qualify her as an expert in the field of the elderly:

  • Less than a year as an intern at the Visitor Center/Herbarium for the US Fish and Wildlife Service at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, Seneca Falls, NY
  • Three years as a National Park Ranger/Naturalist for the National Park Service at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Less than a year as a Wetlands Scientist for CH2M HILL in Portland, OR
  • Two years as an Environmental Planner for the Intergovernmental Resource Center Vancouver, WA 
  • Two years as a Conservation Biologist for the Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources in Olympia, WA
  • Two years as Natural Areas Program Manager for the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources in Olympia, WA
  • Two years as Special Lands Acquisitions Manager Forest Practices Coordinator Washington State Department of Natural Resources in Olympia, WA
  • One year as Assistant Division Manager, Forest Resources for the Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources in Olympia, WA
  • One year as Special Projects Manager for Holocaust Assets Recovery at the Washington State Dept. of the Insurance Commissioner in Olympia, WA
  • Less than a year as an Instructor at Endangered Spirit in Chicago 
  • One year as a Natural Resource Specialist in the Broward County Department of Environmental Protection
  • One year as the Safe Parks and Land Preservation Bond Program Coordinator in Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Less than a year as a March of the Living Instructor for the Jewish Education Commission in South Palm Beach County
  • Less than a year as an Environmental Studies Instructor at South Palm Beach Community College
  • Two years as Senior Vice President for Allocations and Agency Relations at the Jewish Federation of Broward County
  • One year as Executive Director of the League for Educational Awareness of the Holocaust
  • Two years as a Senior Services Planner for the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County where she conducted a senior services study to assess the unmet needs of Jewish elderly and make recommendations to address those needs
  • Two years as a self-employed consultant providing sensitivity training to front-line health workers who assist Holocaust survivors.

This is hardly the resume of a seasoned and highly experienced expert in the area of senior services.  The fault does not rest with Ms. Friebaum but rather with Stuart Wachs.  Why Mr. Wachs did not seek an individual with a national reputation in the field of the elderly is by now likely self-evident for those who are regular readers of this Blog.  Mr. Wachs hires individuals who are at best marginally qualified but who will be beholden to him for their job.  He has proven to be interested in those who he can control and who will be less likely to challenge his authority or his own minimal subject knowledge.

So when the protracted analysis paralysis ends and a report is completed what can we expect?  Likely a sophomoric product that will tell us much of what we already know without a credible action plan to make any of what might be reasonable solutions come to fruition.  In short, another JCA boondoggle which will see the plight of Phoenix’s Jewish elderly not improving and worse yet likely worsening.

Once more, the JCA fiddles while the Greater Phoenix Jewish community burns.  Thanks to Mr. Wachs, Mr. Kramer, and the board members of the JCA we will continue to see our local Jewish community go from weakness to weakness instead of from strength to strength.