Jewish Senior Living magazine   2016/2017


Despite his day job at the San Francisco Veterans Administration, Dr. Kurtis Kaminishi feels as though he is still happily part of the Jewish Home family. That is because, during weekends and holidays, he covers in the Home’s acute geriatric psychiatry hospital. But in 2014, he spent a month as a fellow in the acute psych hospital while he completed a sub-specialty in geriatric psychiatry from the University of California, San Francisco.

Fellows and interns old and new unite with established staff. Left to right: Dr. Elliott Stein, acute geriatric psychiatry medical director; Sonya Maeck, clinical administrator and program director; ex-fellow Dr. Kurtis Kaminishi; Laura Weston, Life Enrichment coordinator post her internship; Lisa O’Donnell, recreation therapist; Askia Umoja, Sacramento State University intern.

When his fellowship began, Dr. Kaminishi did not know much about the Home’s psychiatry hospital. What he found was a unique and comprehensive geriatric inpatient wing with “incredible educators and clinicians. It was a really enriching environment,” he reports.

Dr. Kaminishi is among a number of fellows and interns in other specialties who have trained at the Jewish Home and become enthusiastic supporters of the training program and working with seniors.

“That’s the plan,” explains Sonya Maeck, the psych hospital’s clinical administrator and program director. “Internships and fellowships in various departments give trainees exposure to geriatric psychiatry and medicine, and hopefully increase the number of people working in the field. It also gives us access to upcoming professionals. It’s a win-win.”

Dr. Elliott Stein, the hospital’s medical director, opened the Jewish Home to trainees so they can experience both geriatric psychiatry patients and residents in a long-term care setting. “The trainees are exposed to patients who need the intensity of care we have in the hospital as well as to the emotional and psychiatric needs of people in a nursing setting,” he says. “For our part, we can pass on our knowledge and experience to the next generation of doctors in this field.”

“Trainees bring a youthful exuberance and enthusiasm for learning and patient care,” says Dr. Stephen Hall, associate medical director of psychiatric program development. Dr. Hall, whose job includes giving talks and marketing the hospital, notes that the connections and relationships that result from training programs are also beneficial. “Some trainees become employees, while those who leave take with them an awareness of the services we provide. They may refer patients to us or speak about us, and that raises our profile.”

Dr. Uyen-Khanh Quang-Dang participated in the psych hospital’s fellowship program.

Now working at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Dr. Uyen-Khanh Quang-Dang will not hesitate to refer patients to the Jewish Home, if appropriate. She heard about the psych hospital’s fellowship program through her UCSF colleague Dr. Kaminishi, and made a special effort to become a fellow as part of her post-MD program. “I got to work intensely with patients with complicated conditions. I gained knowhow and confidence in my ability to diagnose, and I got to see really sick older people get so much better,” she shares. “It raised the bar on what people can do.”

Pursuing her MSW, Justine Arenander benefitted from her first-year internship at the Jewish Home.

Justine Arenander, currently enrolled in an MSW program at UC Berkeley, was assigned a first-year internship at the Jewish Home. “It was a unique opportunity, a melding of geriatric mental health and medical social work,” she says. “It was a huge learning experience and also testing the waters of working in geriatrics. I really liked it.”

“I love having interns,” enthuses Jewish Home recreation therapist Lisa O’Donnell, who has worked with quite a few in her 20 years on staff. “They provide new energy on the floor. They’re young, eager to learn, and I learn from them. It’s exciting to see the ideas they come up with.”

Lisa has developed partnership relationships with San Jose State, Sacramento State, and a number of other schools which recommend that students in their recreation therapy or similar programs apply to the Jewish Home for internships. “They can experience the full gamut of the geriatric population here,” she says.

Both Laura Weston and Ravleen Pabla were interns at the Jewish Home and became on-staff Life Enrichment coordinators. Ravleen recalls that when she was looking for an internship for her degree in recreation therapy, a fellow student encouraged her to try the Jewish Home. She did, and she liked it so much she applied for a job.

Laura had a similar experience. She heard about the Jewish Home from a colleague at a former job. “I did a lot of site visits, but the Home was the only place I applied because it had everything I wanted: clinical, long-term, short-term, psych services, and working with the elderly.”

Dr. Stephen Hall associate medical director of psychiatric program development

“Eldercare in general benefits from having well-trained people join the work force,” maintains Dr. Hall. “Hopefully, without just boasting about it, training at the Jewish Home makes them even better clinicians.”


Now on staff at the Jewish Home for almost nine years, Gina Wittert declares, “I can’t imagine working anywhere else!”

Born in the Philippines, Gina gained nursing experience in that country’s hospital departments, specifically medical/surgery and labor and delivery, as well as in the emergency room. “I was raised to respect and care for the older generation,” she says. And so, when she first heard about the Jewish Home from a co-worker, she thought it might be the perfect place for her.

Gina was originally working as a charge nurse in STARS – the Home’s short-term rehabilitation unit – when she was approached by a supervisor who asked if she would like to move to the facility’s acute geriatric psychiatry hospital. “I’ve always been fascinated by psychiatry, so I grabbed this opportunity,” she tells. She then began to study for her board certification as a specialized mental health registered nurse.

As the psych hospital’s nurse manager, Gina is responsible for its day-to-day operations and making certain that it is in compliance with regulatory standards. She also ensures that patients receive optimal and safe care, and provides staff training when needed.

She says her favorite part of her job is seeing a patient look like a completely different person than when he or she came in. “Knowing we’ve been part of their recovery gives me a sense of fulfillment and pride.”

Her new project is opening a placement program in the hospital for University of San Francisco nursing students to do clinical training. “It’ll be a great experience for the students as well as for the acute psych staff,” Gina promises. “Everyone’s excited.”

As part of her nurse manager role, Gina Wittert (facing the camera) takes RN Ester Ang Abrigo through a staff training update.

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Jewish Senior Living Magazine

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