Impact Stories:

COVID-19 Relief Stories: Rieta Hirschman

Working to Ensure Older Adults Can Communicate With Family Despite the Pandemic

When you ask Jo Sawyer to describe the care that the Jewish Association on Aging (JAA) is providing to her mother during the pandemic, Jo says,

“They really treat her as if she’s their mother. It’s genuine.”

Jo’s mother, Rieta Hirschman, moved to Pittsburgh from Washington state to be closer to her son. She lived three years in Jewish Association on Aging’s Weinberg Terrace, in an independent-living apartment she loved. After her first stroke, she transitioned to Weinberg Village. As her vascular dementia progressed, she moved to AHAVA Memory Care Center of Excellence at JAA.

Rieta's face looks into an iPhone screen, with her cat in the corner of the screen
Rieta's video chats often included her beloved cats.

In February, when the COVID-19 pandemic seemed likely to affect visitors’ access to facilities like AHAVA Memory Care, Jo flew from Washington to visit Rieta, before restrictions were needed. She wanted to take advantage of the narrowing window of opportunity to visit her mother. “I was amazed at how careful JAA was with staff, residents and visitors,” Jo says. “They [went] above and beyond to keep the virus at bay.” Leaving was emotionally taxing. With Rieta in her 90’s and with advancing dementia, Jo wondered if she would ever see her mother again.

When the pandemic hit, JAA implemented rigorous screening, safety and distancing policies that would not have been possible without support from Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The Federation paid for personal protective equipment (PPE) for JAA staff, extra people to conduct health screenings, air filtration systems and more.

Thanks to the money for extra staffing, JAA had the capacity to set up twice-a-week video chats between Jo and Rieta. In these video chats, Jo noticed that Rieta zeroed in on her and her brother, talked to them and seemed so happy to see them. Knowing the importance of these moments of joy amidst the confusion of dementia, Jo is grateful for all the effort JAA put into making the calls happen.

“It’s such a horrible situation, agonizing for everybody. We had stress on every angle,” says Jo.

“JAA made every effort to make it easier for us and to make me feel good about the safe care my mother was being given. I trust them completely.”

Jo Sawyer appreciates that donors to the Jewish Federation are providing care across the community. Jo explains, “It’s like a 360-degree situation. JAA is not only taking great care of their residents and their staff, but they are also looking at the continuity of services around the community.” The Jewish Federation leads the effort to coordinate services across Jewish agencies and to ensure that families have the support they need at the critical time they need it.

Reita sits in a living area in her wheelchair. A JAA employee holds an iPhone so she can talk through a window to her children, who look at the camera
Rieta enjoys a safe visit with her children at AHAVA Memory Care.
Ultimately, Jo says, “It’s not just about a nursing home. It’s about understanding our family’s needs.”

When we, as members of the community, give together, we help more people. We help our neighbors, our friends, our own loved ones. Thanks to donor support through the Jewish Federation, our community can meet the needs of Rieta’s family, thousands of Jewish families around Pittsburgh and millions of people in Jewish communities around the world.


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