TORONTO — Despite what some people may think or have heard, Baycrest wants you to know that it’s still very much a Jewish institution.
Since 1918, when the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home, the forerunner to the Baycrest Health Sciences, opened in downtown Toronto, Baycrest has maintained its deep Jewish roots, says Dr. William Reichman, its president and CEO.
As one of the most successful health-care institutions in the world, he said, “the Jewish guys got it right.”
Speaking in an interview at Baycrest, along with Garry Foster, chair of the board of directors, Reichman said that at least 90 per cent of residents in long-term care are Jewish.
“We always open our doors to people in crisis, but Jewish people get first priority. The government has recognized that this is a special place for Jews. It has a Jewish ‘tam,’” Reichman said.
To help serve their needs, Reichman said, Rabbi Geoffrey Haber came on board last year as the new director of spiritual care, and Baycrest’s department of cultural, arts and innovation offers synagogue services, holiday celebrations and a Holocaust resource program.
“If anything, we have deeper Jewish roots. The community left us a legacy that we inherited. The depth of that feeling is so strong that it has never changed.”
The history of the organization is one of visionary dreams, he said. “[As part of that vision] the Jewish community decided that it wasn’t enough to take care of the people on Bathurst Street. Trying to [build upon a legacy] is not a new concept. Tikkun olam is part of Jewish philosophy.”
That vision included the establishment in 1989 of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, which has scientists in the field of brain research studying memory, brain function and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and strokes.
Reichman said that none of the money used by the Rotman Institute is money that would have gone to resident care and services.
“The vast majority of that money comes from outside funding. We have an $18-million annual research budget, and donors support 30 to 35 per cent of it. We [depend on] philanthropy to support [research] activities. We cannot conduct research unless we have money.”
As the population ages, said Reichman, “we need this [research.] We have to bring in the best doctors, teachers, everyone, to find the next practice point of research.”
A new theatre at Baycrest’s Abe Posluns Auditorium, the Jacob Family Theatre, funded by Ellis Jacob, president and CEO of Cineplex Inc. in memory of his mother Tryphosa, will play a part in the research.
In addition to showing Hollywood movies for residents, it will also assist with tele-health and tele-education programs.
Foster said that Baycrest’s reputation is resonating outside the Jewish community. “[Professionals] come to us on Bathurst Street to develop services to take to [countries all over the world.]”
Foster stressed that “taking knowledge abroad does not mean we are leaving the Jewish community behind. It is our roots and the centre of what we do. We will never outgrow the community.”
Baycrest is the jewel of the Canadian health-care system, Foster said. “We are world renowned, and we should be proud. This doesn’t exist in the United States. [The community] built fertile ground [in order to] plant flowers in senior care.”
Reichman said that with about 800 people waiting to get into its Apotex Centre long-term care residence, and other residents waiting to get into an alternative level of care, Baycrest needs to find solutions.
“This is a serious problem in Ontario. The solution is helping people stay at home, but we don’t yet have the means to support people at home. We need to get the message out there that aging at home is an [appropriate strategy.]”