When representatives of Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick realized that the number of Orthodox Jewish patients receiving treatment in their hospital was increasing significantly, they decided to take action and make things as easy for them, and their families, as possible.
As a Catholic hospital committed to meeting the health needs of the entire community, its leadership began bringing in amenities that Orthodox Jews, who adhere to strict dietary requirements and are Shabbat-observant, might need during hospitalization.
Those measures include kosher food options for patients, as well as the availability of kosher food in the cafeteria and in the Bikur Cholim Hospitality Room for family members. The room, supplied by the Raritan Valley and Lakewood Bikur Cholim, is also stocked with prayer books, electric candlesticks for Shabbat and holidays, reading materials, and more.
The changes come as the hospital is seeing an influx of patients from the heavily Orthodox Lakewood area, in addition to Jews from Edison, Highland Park, and surrounding environs.
The hospital also created a new staff position, a “patient navigator” for the Jewish community. “It just seemed logical if we were going to be focusing on culturally competent care, that we would have someone who understands how best to interact and relate with the population we are trying to serve,” said Saint Peter’s CEO Leslie Hirsch.
For that new role Saint Peter’s hired Rena Goldsmith Klein of Edison, who has a master’s degree in public health and has substantial experience working with the elderly and with women fighting breast cancer.
“Saint Peter’s is very forward-thinking,” said Goldsmith Klein. As the hospital noticed the numbers of Orthodox Jews increasing, she said, they “wanted to meet not only the medical needs of patients, but also their religious and cultural needs.”
Among Goldsmith Klein’s responsibilities are leading outreach efforts to the Jewish community about the hospital and its medical services, and helping Jewish families and patients who are admitted.
“I want the Jewish community to see me as a resource,” she said. “I can connect patients with resources they might have trouble finding in the moment when they are dealing with an illness, whether it’s related to medical care or Jewish practice.”
Since she came on board in September 2019, Goldsmith Klein has helped patients and their families arrange for places to stay over Shabbat, find a local minyan, and even replace a lost kipa. She’s even researched end-of-life directives that are legally binding and adhere to Jewish law.
And even though it’s still two months away, Goldsmith Klein has started prepping the hospital for Passover. “We are working on our inpatient kosher-for-Passover menu and handling the matzah order and making sure that everything will be packaged properly for our patients.”
Observant patients and their families will appreciate that she is also teaching Saint Peter’s employees about Jewish practices and customs.
“I’ve started educating the staff, department by department, about cultural sensitivities,” Goldsmith Klein said. “By creating a greater awareness and sensitivity, patients will feel more comfortable when they are here because staff understand them and their concerns.”
Said Hirsch, “We are appreciative of our relations with the Jewish community in the area, and particularly in the Lakewood area, where we have established primary and specialty care services, and we will continue to evolve this relationship,” adding that they are looking to build “a strong, long-term, mutually beneficial partnership where we meet the needs of the patients in the communities we are serving.”