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From president to provider.

AAHSA president to head Boston's Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged

IN MARCH, AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) President Len Fishman announced his self-imposed retirement from AAHSA. Citing "personal reasons" and the need "to devote my attention to my family's needs," Fishman declared the end of his term with AAHSA would be effective Aug. 31.

Only recently did Fishman decide conclusively what new venture he'd be embarking upon. He has accepted the position of CEO of the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged (HRCA), an AAHSA-member facility, in Boston. He assumes the position in November, succeeding Maurice I. "Maury" May, who is retiring from HRCA after 37 years.

In a phone interview with Contemporary Long Term Care, Fishman talked about his choice of accepting the position at HRCA, what he feels he brings to the position, his agenda in the new role, and what challenges he anticipates.

"When I decided to resign from AAHSA, it had been a sad year for me. In one year I had lost a mother, a father, a father-in-law, and a sister. Since then I have lost a sister-in-law," said Fishman. So he reluctantly felt the need to step down from the demands of AAHSA's presidency.

Fishman expected to return to his home state of New Jersey, where he would resume his practice of law. "I also expected to keep my hand in policy," he explains. Then HRCA approached him.

"When I investigated the opportunity I began to see it could bring together the personal and professional parts of my life," says Fishman. "It's the nation's largest teaching and training site for geriatric physicians through the fellowship program with Harvard Medical School [as well as teaching programs in partnership with Beth Israel Hospital and the University of Massachusetts College of Nursing], and houses the largest geriatric research organization in the country. It's an incredibly rich environment with it multiple missions of health care, housing, teaching, and research. After talking for years about providing housing for seniors, I'll have the privilege of providing this service," he says.

Did not make decision alone

When weighing his options, Fishman turned to the most important and influential people in his life: his wife and 12-year-old daughter. "They're longtime nursing home volunteers, and they love the opportunity, too," says Fishman, who says he would not have taken the position if either of them had an objection.

"I'll be home every night, which is a prospect that was not possible in meeting the responsibilities of the AAHSA presidency," he explains. "That's why I chose to resign from AAHSA and why taking over the reins of HRCA was possible. Now I can devote more time to my family."

Fishman is understandably proud of the facility and his new role. "HRCA has had a really glorious past and as it prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2003 it has an equally promising future," he says.

When asked what he brings to the position that makes him uniquely qualified to the post, he says, "I bring a deep conviction that our elders deserve the finest care that we can deliver in the most dignified homelike setting possible." He says he also shares the unique mission of nonprofit providers.

"That's where the greatest innovation is coming from. HCRA is a great example of that," says Fishman. "I led a major state agency when I served as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services [from 1994 to 1999]. I gained national perspective in this role. And I've been saying for years that we have to pay more attention to what consumers want: provide them with greater independence and more options. That's the direction that I want to take HRCA in."

Where are the highest hurdles?

"I think the biggest challenge is continuing the HCRA movement toward housing-based services and extending its reach even deeper into the community," says Fishman. The difficulty, he anticipates, will be doing all this while preserving and strengthening HCRA's traditional health care services and its role as a leader in medical teaching and training.

"What has impressed me enormously is that despite its past success, the board and the staff recognize that the future lies in more home and community based services. One of my challenges will be to help raise the visibility of the outstanding work that is going on there. They are doing trailblazing work in both social and clinical research, but they're not a household name and they should be. I want to raise the visibility of the research and policy work being done there. I hope my background will allow me to bring some experience and credibility to this," says Fishman.

Still active with AAHSA?

Fishman has been involved with AAHSA in one way or another for the past 15 years. "I can't imagine what this field would be like without AAHSA's leadership. I see myself shifting from one role to another where I will be providing services to seniors. I have no doubt that my first year at least will be spent immersing myself in my new responsibilities," he says.

When asked if he would likely be a speaker at upcoming AAHSA events, Fishman quips, "They've probably heard enough of me."

One of the questions that remains is who will succeed him as president. As of this writing, AAHSA is only weeks away from naming its new president and likely will have made the announcement by the time this issue of CLTC goes to press. So Fishman is tightlipped about who is on the short list of possibilities, but says of the process of identifying finalists only, "it's moving right along according to schedule."

"What AAHSA's looking for is a very strong leader who will be able to project AAHSA into the highest levels of policy making. Someone who can strengthen and sharpen our advocacy efforts on behalf of our members and their residents, and who can help our members become in every community they serve the hub for the continuum of aging services."

Passing the torch

When asked what challenges AAHSA's next president faces, Fishman replies, "I think the biggest challenge in a nutshell is to raise the credibility and esteem of this field, especially the voice of providers when talking to legislatures, and other policy makers. We've made some real inroads there but it's still an uphill battle. This is a field that's still fighting for its credibility and that struggle is absolutely vital. If you have the public's trust you can overcome just about any obstacle; without that trust every day is an uphill battle."
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Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:Is it in the plan?

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