Rachel Hodesh: Stories on Life and Aging

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When we reached out to Rachel Hodesh, her one request was that her brother, Jake, could be present during the conversation. And after sitting down with the two of them for just an hour and a half, it was clear how full – of jokes (so many jokes!), support, and love – their relationship is.

Rachel began her career in geriatric care at Glen Manor Home for the Aged in Bond Hill. She has a master’s degree in health and human services and is a licensed nursing home administrator, but she will tell you that her best experience – where she learned the most about aging – was working in Israel and the Chicago Housing Authority. Today, Rachel works for Queen City Home Care as a geriatric care manager and marketing coordinator, crediting her long career to the many seniors who have touched her life over 25 years. She’s a huge piece of the stories of innumerable seniors throughout Cincinnati.

We talked with Rachel about her recent professional journey, lessons from starting her own business, stories about seniors who she’ll never forget, and insight on senior caregiving and advocacy.

Interview by Justine Daley. Photography by Chelsie Walter.

Why was it important for your brother, Jake, to join you for this interview?

For the first nine-and-a-half years of my life, I was an only child. And when you're an only child for that long, you learn to have this ability to kind of fend for yourself. You have a different childhood. And growing up in the ’70s, ’80s, everything is definitely different. You go through disco and you wear bell bottoms, and I think even more importantly, you really had the attention of your parents.

And so when my brother was born, I became this caregiver and caretaker, and it was a new role for me. And it was like this instant 10-and-a-half-pound sack of potatoes that came into our house. It was amazing, because it really gave me the ability to understand what it was like to care for someone.

I really want to get it across to caregivers and to people that it is so important to ask for help.

If I think of what makes me the person I am today, I think it's Jake. You know, everyone has siblings, but not everyone has siblings that they love and respect or that they really believe in. I think that Jake really had – without him knowing it – a way of molding me into who I became today.

But I think about it also when I think about this movement that we're having across the country right now: men and women coming together. That movement's been happening since Jake came into my house in 1980. It's always been that way in our house. We've always had the ability to have a man and woman stand up for each other and support each other.

It sounds like you are a natural caregiver. When did you make the decision to make being a senior caregiver your profession?

I should have realized in high school that I wanted to work with seniors after doing internships for the two Jewish homes in Cincinnati, but I took a little bit of time to get there. I spent my junior year in Israel and after college, I moved to Washington, D.C. to “change the world.” All I knew for sure is that I wanted to help people. I wanted to make a difference.

I saw this movie, "Losing Isaiah.” It’s the story of a hospital social worker who saves a crack baby from being lost in the Chicago foster care system. And so I look at my friend in the middle of the movie and I'm like, "That's it. I'm gonna become a child welfare case worker.” So I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and for $10.50 an hour, I was gonna remove these babies from their horror. And so the next three years that's what I did – all because of the movie.

But after three years, I slowly fell back into the senior housing and caregiving industry. I found my way back.


Can you tell us about the professional journey you’ve been on over this past year?

So a year and a half ago, I left Cedar Village as their nursing home administrator and director of independent assisted living. I walked into Cedar Village on August 30, 2004, a young mother and their volunteer coordinator, and left knowing that I had a career that had come full circle. I stopped that journey and I had a year to find myself.

On January 2, 2017, a family friend called and said, "Can you please become our parents’ care manager?"

I said, "Sure. What is that?"

They're like, "Figure it out." The next thing I knew, I was managing their household.

So in June of 2017, I started my own geriatric care management business, Innovative Lifestyle Care. With that, I needed to find a homecare company. So I research and I find Aaron Stapleton from Queen City Homecare. In the geriatric care industry, I can have a preferred provider, and I chose him because he trained every single aide in dementia care, and that's what I wanted for my clients.

By November, he comes to me and he says, "Queen City Homecare is ready to hire a geriatric care manager. We want you to come work for us." And by January 1, 2018, I was working for them.

That moment, looking at those nine seniors as they sat below the Israeli flag on top of Masada, with the Dead Sea and Jordan in the background, I knew I had accomplished something that was beyond words.

I have this tremendous support system and a company that is committed to the aging process, that is committed to giving back, and that is willing to devote themselves to finding and providing the best care that they can for seniors. And so, for me to know that this young entrepreneur – who, six years ago, built this company from nothing – wanted to bring me onto his team, I am beyond honored. He decided, "You know what, geriatric care management is the next thing. I want Rachel." I was thrilled because he saw in me something that is innovative and passionate; I knew that I believed in his philosophy.

Tell us about the experience of starting your own business.

I will be honest: I did not like it. It was not me. I am very much about being around other people, collaborating. And this type of job – geriatric care management, aging, healthcare – is very much about teamwork; it's about bouncing ideas off of one another. If anyone tells you differently, they're wrong, because I found myself having problems with clients and having no one to talk to – not a mentor, not anyone, and you really need to have that.

So as a woman, I love the empowerment. But at the same time, the reality was, there was a real fracture in what needed to be done, and that was providing the ultimate care for the people that needed it. I'm not saying they didn't get the best care, because they had me 24/7, but I always felt I could do better.  


Why do you do what you do?

For me, working with seniors is about the story. Who are they? How did they get there? What’s their life's work? That is how I look at my world of senior advocacy. And then, that's of course how I think of my brother, going back to Jake and caregiving.

In October 2007, we had our entire team of residents and staff from Cedar Village on top of Masada in Israel. They said we would never raise the money; we would never get them to Israel. If you know me, you know that I will work harder than anyone else if you tell me I cannot do something. That moment, looking at those nine seniors as they sat below the Israeli flag on top of Masada, with the Dead Sea and Jordan in the background, I knew I had accomplished something that was beyond words. My brother was there with us.

So when people ask me why I do what I do, I say for the stories.

And it all comes back to the first person I ever met, the woman that took care of me when I was born, and that was Anna. She was 97 when she died and I was her power of attorney for healthcare. She fell on the nursing home floor and never got up. The nursing home left her there for 24 hours; this was a woman who took care of over 400 children in the Cincinnati area, me being one of them.

If you do not have a sense of humor, I can tell you right now, you cannot do this job.

And so when I think about the men and women like Anna who don't have a voice, it is why I do what I do. And when I think of their stories, I think of Anna, who was the youngest of 20 children, and whose father was one of John D. Rockefeller's slaves. And I think about her passion and I think of her love and I think of her story and carry on.

Are there any stories that you’ll always remember?

I was very close with a resident named Bess. Bess was a woman I met when I was at University of Cincinnati, and later she lived in Cedar Village as one of my residents. She was an incredible woman with a special story. As a young woman in New York, she helped Rabbi Eliezer Silver bring Jews from Europe to America. Bess was fluent in Yiddish, an amazing cook, and a fountain of knowledge. I loved being with her, talking with her, and after she died, her children gave me a necklace and a hamsa that hangs in my kitchen – a reminder of her life and spirit.

What are some of the most important qualities for someone to have in your line of work?

Two things. You need to have a sense of humor. If you do not have a sense of humor, I can tell you right now, you cannot do this job. The other thing is you have to be able to shed tears, and really be able to hug and hold a hand.

What advice do you give to families you work with?

I've stopped giving advice. Honestly, families cannot hear you. When they are in crisis, they don’t want to hear your opinion or story. I have learned that the hard way. But what I've started saying is, "Take care of yourself." You know, for the longest time, I was this person that was not taking care of myself, and I'm getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning, every single morning, and going to the gym, because if I'm not taking my own advice as a professional, then I can't give advice to my clients. You've gotta practice what you preach.


Who are the most influential women in your life?

There are three. Jake and I’s grandmother lived until she was 99. She just passed away on March 30, 2017. She was 99 years old. She raised three children on her own and was married three times. But she ran her garage downtown and she was really an amazing and dynamic woman.

She could take over a room like no one I ever knew. And she really had the ability to take control of a conversation. I remember as a child, I would take the 78 bus downtown. She ran a parking garage where the Aronoff Center for the Arts is now. It was called the Walnut Garage. And every Saturday morning I would have lunch with her at La Normandie.

And everyone knew my grandmother. She was Miss Cincinnati, and I never realized until I got older how before her time she was, because if you think about it, this is like 1978 and she is raising her children, running her business – really truly beyond her time. When my father's father died when my dad was 16, she went back to work seven days afterward. She knew nothing about running a parking garage and she went to work.

There is help out there and that you do not have to do it alone.

The next person is my mother's sister. She just died on December 28. She was 77. My aunt was the matriarch of our family. My mom has two older sisters. I spent every weekend at her house, from the time I was four until I was 13. She taught me how to win an argument. She taught me the importance of reading The New York Times and The Atlantic. She took me to my first pro-choice march and made sure I knew the difference between right wing and being “right.’

She died a caregiver. Her husband is 12 years older than her and she was his caregiver and that's it. She went into the hospital on December 14 and never came out. And I take her death personally. I feel as a caregiver, what could we have done more as a family to help her? And we later found out that she was probably sick and didn’t tell us.

The third person who I'd say is the most influential woman in my life is my mother. My mother has not had it easy. When my mom was 24, her mom died the night before her wedding. So my aunt became her mother. Our mom was another woman who was before her time. She always owned her own businesses – a serious hustler. Very independent and to me, that says a lot about a woman. That she, like my aunt and like my grandmother, really had the ability to stand on her own two feet.


What do you want to make sure people take away from this interview?

In the United States, we focus so much on a child being born that we do not look at or emphasize the aging process. Perhaps if we emphasize healthy aging as much as we look at the importance of a healthy birthday we would have a much more positive aging experience.

And I really want to get it across to caregivers and to people that it is so important to ask for help. The person who nominated me, he uses my help once a month for one hour. I mean, it's one hour. That one hour saves that person a lot of stress and headache to help navigate a very difficult and scary system. And I think it's really important in this day and age to know that you can navigate a system with help and you don't have to be alone.

And then I think about our aunt, who was so stubborn and had everything at her fingertips and refused to ask for help. And maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but when I think about that and when I think about everything that could have been done, the shoulda, coulda, wouldas… I just need your readers to know that there is help out there and that you do not have to do it alone. It's okay to make the call.