Strong and passionate in her convictions, Gail Prystowsky of Teaneck advocated for the rights of older adults until her death last year at 77. She made sure their needs were addressed in a constructive, practical manner, said Devorah Sinensky, her business partner of 17 years and co-founder of Geriatric Resource Services in Teaneck.
Ms. Prystowsky died last September 2 of a glioblastoma brain tumor. In her memory, her alma mater, Yeshiva University, recently established a scholarship for a social work graduate student to pursue a specialty in gerontology and palliative care. Those were Ms. Prystowsky’s areas of expertise as a licensed clinical social worker until the pandemic upended her ability to connect to clients and she retired.
“Gail always answered the call because she was passionate that if people were living longer, they should also live better and happier,” her husband, Steve Prystowsky, said. Mr. Prystowsky is a semi-retired appellate attorney who made the family donation for the scholarship fund. “Community clergy often called Gail when their elderly congregants faced difficult times and needed immediate help that they could not provide.”
A member of the Jewish Center of Teaneck, Ms. Prystowsky began her career in early childhood education with an undergraduate degree from Hunter College. She returned to school to earn a master’s in social work in 1987 from YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
She started working as a social worker with Jewish agencies, including Jewish Children and Family Services of Norther New Jersey, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, and Daughters of Miriam in Clifton.
Across the Hudson in northern Manhattan, she was coordinator of services for the elderly and Russian resettlement at the Jewish Community Council of Washington Heights — Inwood. She also worked with Holocaust survivors through SelfHelp community services.
Recognizing a void in care services for the growing elderly community, Ms. Prystowsky and Ms. Sinensky founded Geriatric Resource Services, a personalized care practice that provided comprehensive case management for the elderly and their family members.
Ms. Prystowsky sat on the board of directors for the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers and was a guest lecturer for the Academy of Medicine of New Jersey. She also was on the Care Commission of the Division of Health and Human Services of Bergen County and was a consultant to Our Parents’ Health, a geriatric evaluation and treatment center serving Northern New Jersey.
“She was able to elicit the core of what people wanted from their lives, how to increase their quality of life,” Ms. Sinensky said. “She was able to understand that and then she would champion their wants and needs.”
Shana Conboy of Tenafly, one of Ms. Prystowsky’s two daughters, said, “She would give anybody that needed help all the time in the world. If someone would call her and say, ‘I just have some questions, I need help, I need direction,’ she would spend hours on the phone with them, giving whatever resources they needed, even if they didn’t end up becoming a client.
“She loved to be part of someone’s day-to-day life, especially those that didn’t have someone to speak
Ms. Prystowsky helped the elderly make their home safe or find a place that would be safe for them to continue for as long as they could live there, be it two years or 20, Ms. Conboy said. “It’s a service that is now a growing industry, but for a long time there was nobody out there that did what my mother did for an aging parent.”
Ms. Prystowsky was also an advocate for palliative care. “She believed that everybody should have dignity and not be in pain,” Ms. Conboy said. “She believed that there is no reason for you to have to hold on just for the sake of saying, ‘well, I made it another year.’ They shouldn’t have to suffer through life, especially near the end.”
Ms. Conboy is proud of the scholarship in her mother’s memory. Her mother “started her working life as a teacher in her twenties and ended it as a social worker,” she said.” I think she would be delighted that her name would live on with an education-based tribute to her.”
Ms. Prystowsky’s other daughter, Aliza Hemed, lives in Las Vegas. Gail and Steve Prystowsky have four grandchildren.
To support the scholarship fund in her name, go to yu.edu/GPfund.