Leading by example, with morality

Leading by example, with morality

Englewood Health’s Warren Geller to be honored by his shul, Emanu-El of Closter

Warren Geller
Warren Geller

“When someone is downtrodden and in need of care, the staff of Englewood Health always steps up to the plate,” Rabbi David Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El of Closter said.

He was explaining why the synagogue chose to honor Englewood Health and its president and chief executive officer, Emanu-El member Warren Geller, at its 94th annual celebration, set for May 18.

“We are coming out of two years of a horrible pandemic, and Englewood Health has led by example and with morality,” Rabbi Kirshner said. “The hospital was among the first to treat people with covid, and the staff was selfless. We have members who died there of covid and members who recovered there from covid.

“One orderly held up his phone so a family could say goodbye to one of our members at a time when they were not allowed to come into the hospital. There were nurses and doctors who stayed in the room with people dying of covid. That’s sacrosanct. That’s beautiful.”

As for Mr. Geller, who joined Englewood Health in 2009 and was appointed president in January 2013, Rabbi Kirshner said, “He’s the epitome of a mensch. He is a brilliant businessman but never lost sight of the mission of the hospital to care for individuals, healing body and soul. He is so deserving of recognition for that.”

Mr. Geller, who has lived in Demarest since 2009, oversees a private not-for-profit health system that consists of the 130-year-old, 520-bed Englewood Hospital as well as the 590-member Englewood Health Physician Network and the Englewood Health Foundation.

The operating budget of Englewood Health, which steadily is growing beyond the borders of Bergen County and even of New Jersey, is approaching a billion dollars. It’s more than doubled since he assumed the presidency.

“I’m extremely grateful to be the representative of this honor from Temple Emanu-El because it gives me the opportunity to say thank you — thank you to all the individuals who went above and beyond and put aside everything going on in their personal lives when this ‘fire’ started,” Mr. Geller said. “These are people who ran toward the flames. They didn’t have the luxury of staying home or staying out of the fray.”

He recalled that the beginning of the pandemic was full of unknowns. “And at Englewood, we received the second or maybe third covid patient in all of New Jersey. Within two to three weeks, we had 236 covid inpatients, half of whom could be deemed critical. Well, when you only have 25 designated ICU beds, you need to be nimble. And the organization needs to have an organic approach to this. And we did.”

Reflecting on the last two years, Mr. Geller said, “I think the biggest thing we did was that we took our ‘white coats,’ our clinical experts, and put them out front and center. And we said we’re going to be 100 percent accountable and 100 percent transparent. We said, ‘We don’t have all the answers today, but this is what we know today. And we know it’s going to change but we’re going to constantly communicate with you.’

“And we did that. We did that across all races and religions and cultures. That was critically important because folks want to hear from folks who speak like them and look like them and that was very important in this. We didn’t want any disparities in healthcare. And I would say that we did an A-plus job keeping our community safe and healthy.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people died at the beginning. It was soul-crushing each and every time that happened. And we were elated anytime someone was discharged and went home to their loved ones.”

Englewood Hospital was named Pandemic Hero of the Year by the Leapfrog Group, an independent national watchdog organization focused on healthcare safety and quality.

As the 500th covid patient was released from Englewood hospital, Mr. Geller led the clap-out.

“The Leapfrog Group rates all the hospitals across the country twice per year, and we received As throughout the pandemic, but they chose only one hospital out of 2,800 participants to receive the Hero of the Year award and I’m proud to say that was Englewood Hospital,” Mr. Geller said.

“That was a recognition of all 4,000 team members and what they did each and every day during this crisis. You know, we’ve been through a real trauma, and it sent shockwaves through this community, but we just continued to do the right thing so we could put our head on the pillow at night. We can say we’re not perfect but we’re going to be transparent and accountable.

“So I believe the reason why the temple has chosen to honor myself and Englewood Health is because of our response from the beginning of this pandemic all the way up until current times. No, we’re not done. There’s lots of people still getting covid. Thank goodness most of them are not very sick. But if you’re vulnerable and you have other conditions, this is a very scary virus. And we continue to be vigilant and put out the information and give people access to vaccines and care.

“It’s about education and communication. That’s our role.”

Rabbi Kirshner said that Englewood Health has “become a pillar in the state of New Jersey for healthcare, and Warren made that happen. He’s done amazing things for the hospital, grown it exponentially and brought in the best doctors and nurses and programs.”

The synagogue enjoys “a close and sweet relationship with Englewood Hospital, and on a personal level I’ve shared a warm relationship with Warren,” Rabbi Kirshner continued. “One of the first things he did when he moved here with his family was to join the temple. That speaks volumes about his commitment to Jewish life and community.”

Mr. Geller noted that the hospital tries to be sensitive to the needs of the diverse populations it serves. “And the way you do that is you link up with the community organizations. If you look at the social determinants of health, it’s about community and healthy eating and shelter, and access to all of those aspects of someone’s life.”

He noted that the hospital offers kosher meals, an array of Shabbat accommodations and amenities, and access to rabbis. Cultural sensitivity is “critically important to a patient’s path to wellness, so we treat them the way they love to be treated in their own culture,” he said.

For members of synagogues, “the shul plays a big role in people’s wellbeing in the sense of belonging, in helping them meet their psychosocial needs,” he said.

“Englewood Health and Temple Emanu-El have had a longstanding, tightknit relationship because we’re serving one another’s constituents. The temple members need healthcare services, and many of our patients are members of Temple Emanu-El because it’s a large successful temple that really has been rooted in this community, like Englewood Hospital, for a long, long time.”

Indeed, the synagogue was formed in Englewood in October 1928 and moved to Closter in 2001.

“So it just makes sense that we really band together, especially at times like we’ve been through in the last 24-plus months of this global pandemic,” Mr. Geller said.

Mr. Geller grew up in Putnam County, New York, in “a very warm, loud Jewish family with a ton of relatives” and said that before they got married, nearly 28 years ago, he jokingly warned his then-fiancee, Kristin, that “‘once you embrace my family, you will have time for nothing else in your life. They’re like a freight train.’

Kristin and Warren Geller, center, stand between their twin daughters, Sarah, left, and Hannah.

“She comes from a very small family and she wasn’t used to this. But she said, ‘No, I can handle this. And she loves it.

“We still laugh about it to this day.”

The Gellers’ twin daughters, Sarah and Hannah, are graduating from college on May 13 — Sarah from Vanderbilt, on her way to Columbia Law School, and Hannah from the University of Southern California, after which she will start her career in New York’s talent industry. Together, they will take a covid-delayed Birthright trip to Israel on the night after the Temple Emanu-El dinner.

“I’m just so excited. It’s fantastic for them,” said Mr. Geller. “I’m thrilled that they will finally get to do Birthright after two years of cancellations.”

In the decades since his daughters were born, Mr. Geller has observed a major shift in the way hospitals serve the public. And Englewood Health has adapted accordingly.

“Twenty-five years ago, I started my career at Mount Sinai — the first Jewish hospital in New York City — and if you walked through the halls then and you walk through the halls now, you’ll see that many patients are no longer in the hospital because we have better access to care, more advanced pharmacology, advanced diagnostics, and testing,” he said. “So a lot of people don’t have to be in a hospital. Most healthcare happens beyond the four walls of a hospital.

“Who comes to a hospital today? First of all, you have the happiest moment in life. We deliver 3,000 babies a year. And then you have really sick people who need advanced diagnostics, advanced testing, advanced surgical techniques. We need to be there for them. But we also need to be there for the less acute patients out there in the community.”

Accordingly, Englewood Health operates urgent care centers in Cresskill, Englewood, Fair Lawn, and Jersey City for patients whose illnesses or injuries are not serious enough for an emergency room visit.

And it just opened its sixth ambulatory care center, a 73,000-square-foot facility near the Journal Square PATH station in Jersey City, offering walk-in care, primary care, medical and surgical subspecialties and, by the end of this year, a full-service imaging center, breast center, and therapeutic services.

The other Englewood Health ambulatory care centers are in Fair Lawn, Woodland Park, Pompton Plains, and Glen Ridge.

Why go so far afield of Bergen County? “Because it’s where our doctors are,” Mr. Geller said.

“I have a very simple philosophy: hospitals don’t have patients. Doctors do. So you partner with your doctors and hopefully give them the best environment possible in which to care for their patients. And then they’ll choose Englewood Hospital in which to care for those patients. We performed well over 150 heart surgeries last year on patients from Essex County. So it’s a true partnership.”

In fact, Englewood Health now cares for about 605,000 outpatients each year, accounting for more than 70 percent of its overall revenue.

“It’s really about our strategy of pushing the care out into the communities that we serve,” Mr. Geller said. “We partner with our physicians to create easy access to all the services that people require. And that starts with primary care. We have a very large primary care network that spans six counties between New Jersey and Rockland County, New York.”

Catering to the physical and cultural needs of that wide span of patient is “the right thing to do,” he concluded. “I won’t say it’s simple. But once it became part of the fabric of our organization, it’s just kind of what we do.”

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