Aron Manor was the first of my nine nursing homes that were my clients. Prior to my acquiring these health care institutions, my clientele was primarily in the ladies ware industry. Because of the high risk of survival in the fashion industry due to the rapid and volatile change of styles, one good season could ensure a manufacturer several years of fiscal endurance. A poor season could very well lead to bankruptcy. In fact, the average survival in the dress business was five years.
As I related previously, most mfrs. started on a shoe string and were financed by factors, who received accounts receivable invoices as collateral. Consequently, the accountants in this industry would receive monthly phone calls from the factors and banks requesting general ledger trial balances which would be given over the phone. These trial balances informed the lenders as to the fiscal status of the borrower. The former were primarily interested in the liquidity of the firm. All current assets and current liabilities i.e. cash, accounts receivable, accounts payable, notes and loans payable were submitted via phone; also, net sales were also divulged.
In addition, certified financial statements were prepared annually and monthly financial break-even statements also were furnished the clients. These reports stated what the inventories should be in order to break-even for the month. Taking physical inventories together with management’s personnel was an important factor in certified statements. Soliciting confirmation of cash in banks, accounts receivable, accounts payable, notes and loans payable by mail was an additional requirement for these statements. Fortunately, by the time I obtained my first nursing home client, I only had one in the garment industry.
Being an accountant in the health care field required preparation of different reports. I would prepare monthly financial statements relating the profit or loss for the month; this was easy since no inventories were involved. However, annual certified reports were submitted to the various states dept. of health. Before remuneration based on costs were instituted, these statements were necessary to divulge the fiscal feasibility of the home.
When I became the accountant for Aron Manor, which serviced 120 patients, remuneration by N.Y. State to nursing homes was based on 3 categories depending on the patient care necessary for each patient. The monthly amounts were $160, $170, and $180. Approximately ten years later, a Columbia professor in the public health dept. of the College was able to influence the N.Y.S. Dept. of Health that nursing home patients on Medicaid or Medicare should receive patient care comparable to private patients. Medicare covered patients over 65 years of age and, some patients under 65 with disabilities. Medicaid covered indigent patients who had to submit proof of their financial state.
This strong proponent of increasing the degree of patient care assumed that, if the homes would spend more money, the patients would benefit. Consequently, the old method of remuneration was scrapped and annual Medicare and Medicaid cost reports were submitted to a Federal agency (Medicare) and to the NYS Dept. of Health in Albany (Medicaid).
I remember rising at a Metropolitan Nursing Home Association meeting held in one of the Manhattan hotels when this new remuneration method was proposed and making a very concerned prediction if this new method was accepted by the governmental agencies. I stated that Harry Truman became President of the U.S. due to his chairing a Senate committee reviewing cost-plus defense contracts. Greed and temptation are very difficult to suppress and would lead to many honest nursing home operators becoming criminals as many of the defenses contractors, who received jail sentences.
Unfortunately, my prediction was correct as many operators would pad their costs with expenditures for their homes and other personal needs. What galled me was the fact that the homes were all doing well financially and didn’t have to resort to criminal acts to survive. After 10 years of cost-plus, it finally came to light what some of the homes were engaged in, resulting in the convening of the Hynes Commission headed by Charles Hynes who is presently District Attorney of Kings County.
It was a very difficult time for nursing home accountants at this time as many operators were able to persuade them to cheat lest they lose the account. In 1974, I had 7 nursing home clients and only one of these operators wanted me to file a false report to no avail. A few years later after the scandal was over, I told him that I kept him out of jail.
One of the bookkeepers at this client advised me that this operator, in a phone conversation with another nursing home owner, who later was convicted as a result of his criminal nursing home acts, remarked that his accountant, Mr. Prager, was a bum because I wouldn’t allow him to steal.
In order to employ every bit of space for patient rooms in order to increase the revenue, Aron Manor, as some of my other nursing home clients, allowed a very little area for the office which was approximately 150 sq. ft. In this crowded space were three desks, filing cabinets and cabinets for office supplies. When I and a man from my office arrived to perform the monthly audit, one of us had to work in the lobby where patients were congregated. Being claustrophobic, I sure didn’t enjoy working there.
Archie Friedman from Harby Dress Co. introduced me in 1954 to his brother-in-law Carl Michaels who owned a firm who manufactured custom made therapeutic shoes. Carl always wanted me to do the monthly audit on a Thursday as he convened a dinner conference in the restaurant in his building around 6 p.m. This procedure went on for 19 years until Carl brought in his son-in-law into the business who wanted his friend to succeed me as the accountant.
Hilda’s Aunt Buddy, who was divorced, had a boy friend Bill Warfman who was in the carpet business. That same year, Bill and his partner, Irving Zucker, engaged me as their accountant. The name of the company was Carpet House and was located on Madison Ave. and 53rdSt. I acquired several small accounts in related businesses through the efforts of Bill. They went out of business in 1968.
Our lease at 2705 Kings Highway expired in 1954 so several months prior to that event we began to look for a house in the immediate neighborhood as we enjoyed our new friends, K.J. Center and Yeshiva Rambam. I don’t recall whether we purchased our new home through an agent or newspaper ad. We inspected a house at 1725 East 27th St. between Quentin Rd. and Avenue R. It was a two story one-family unattached house with a basement; it was built in 1924 and sold for $4,500. The house was ‘in excellent shape. Other than painting the interior and minor electrical renovations, we had no other expenditures.
Throughout the 43 years that we resided in this house we had no plumbing repairs to speak of since the house was built with brass plumbing, a far cry from the homes that were constructed after the war. The entire plot was 190 ft. x 25 ft.; the house was 100 ft. x 25 ft. You walked up 3 stairs to the entrance and a fairly large patio.
The entrance led to a tiny vestibule leading to a 24 x 18 living room. From the latter, you entered through an arch to a 22 x 18 dining room and then to a 30 x 18 kitchen and dinette area. A stair case on the far side of the dining room led to the second floor where there were 3 bedrooms and a long, narrow hall. The master bed room faced the front of the house, Kenny’s room faced the rear and Dennis’s room faced the driveway on the side of the house. We had a garage but a large car could not fit into it; we used it primarily for storage and for the bamboo poles which I used to place on my succah (a temporary abode commanded by the Torah).
As soon as Hilda and I saw this house, we decided to buy it. We purchased it at the asking price of $16,500 from a lovely elderly couple whose name was Jarret. He was an importer of Dutch chocolates and on his travels to Holland was able to bring home with him beautiful rose bushes which were planted in the small garden in the rear of the house. In fact, we inherited 5 rose bushes each of a different color; yellow, red, pink, orange and a very dark red. Believe it or not, these bushes were still blooming in 1997 when we sold the house.
We placed a 15 year mortgage of $9,000 on the house which I was able to handle quite comfortably. The basement contained 3 rooms; laundry room, a very large room which I converted for an office and a furnace room consisting of an oil burner for heat, hot water heater and 2 large fuel oil tanks. Several years later, we converted our heating to gas and were able to dispense with the huge tanks. All the walls were of cinder block so, a few years after the purchase, we covered all the basement walls with wood paneling.
After living in the new home for about a year, we made a chanukas habais (a house warming) in the basement and invited about 75 relatives and friends. My father-in-law made a beautiful speech and publicly gave Hilda and me a generous gift of $2,000 for which we were most grateful. We raised our two sons in this house and have nothing but good memories of our stay in this house.
In this same year, 1954, Dennis started his academic career, starting in the first grade at Yeshiva Rambam. Also, although we were satisfied with our sons’ summer camp the previous year at Maple Lake, we decided to give Shelly Apfelbaum a break by enrolling both our boys at his Camp Winsoki near Renssellaerville in the Catskills.
Shelley was executive director of Kingsway and I found him to be extremely efficient in that capacity; therefore, I assumed that he conducted his camp activities with the same energy and competence. My assumption proved to be correct as we continued to send our boys to his camp for many years. Kenny went there through the usual program; camper, waiter and counselor finishing his camping career as life guard; Dennis was a camper. When he arrived at the age of being a counselor, he opted to go to Camp Massad in the Poconos in PA.
On the two Sundays the parents would visit their children, Hilda and I chose to spend weekends at the camp instead of just on the Sundays. The camp had a very comfortable guest house and we made good friends with other parents on these weekends. Among others, we met the Avners of whom I wrote previously. On Saturday nights, several of the parents, including myself, competed against the counselors in basketball games under the lights. Kenny was an exceptionally good athlete so I enjoyed playing against him.
We also enjoyed the company of Seymour and Hermia Reinhard whom we knew from Yeshiva Rambam. Their boy twins, Andy and David, were also campers at Winsoki for many years. Seymour was one of the players on our parents’ team. Andy, eventually went to Columbia and dormed with Kenny throughout their stay at the college. They both then attended Harvard, Kenny in medical school and Andy in law school. To this day, they are good friends; Kennie and Jeannie, whenever they visit Israel, stay a few days at Andy’s and his wife’s apartment in Jerusalem. David and his wife Elaine live in Miami Beach where David is a physician.
When Dennis was a counselor at Massad one summer, we received a phone call around 1 a.m. one night informing us that our son was in a bad auto accident not very far from the camp; the call was from a hospital in Scranton, Pa. You can just imagine our fear of not knowing the condition of our son.
We immediately left in our car with much trepidation, again not knowing what is awaiting us. Arriving at the hospital about 4 a.m., we asked the nurse on duty for the room number where Dennis was lying; she replied that she would escort us to visit him. Instead of being in a room, he was lying on a gurney in the hall. The gurney next to him was occupied by a lovely young lady who was his passenger. His face was covered with bandages as he suffered a broken nose; the girl also suffered facial injuries.
Fortunately, despite his condition, he was able to relate to us in detail all the facts of the accident. The car he was driving was an old car that Hilda had given him when she purchased a new one. Perhaps the brakes were bad and that may have caused the accident. Dennis and his companion were counselors at Massad and on their day off decided to go visit the areas around the camp.
They were returning to the camp in the late afternoon and, at a very sharp turn on a narrow road, the car hit a concrete wall. We were not interested as to whether Dennis or the car was at fault; we simply were concerned with the health of Dennis and the girl. He told us that the car was totaled-completely destroyed-. He also told us that he picked up a young couple who were hitch-hiking. Fortunately, they were let off a few minutes prior to the accident. Had they still been in the car, they would have been killed since the rear seats of the car suffered the most damage and the entire roof was shorn off and landed on those seats.
After a day or two, Dennis and his passenger were discharged from the hospital and returned to the camp. Sometime later, we viewed pictures of the demolished car and couldn’t believe that our son and the girl survived with relatively minor injuries. A few months later, the girl’s father sued me, as the owner of the car, despite the fact that Dennis was doing his daughter a favor by giving her a lift on her day off. He evidently felt that since I was insured, any award granted to him would not come out of my pocket. Of course he was wrong since for the next three years my insurance premiums were increased substantially. If the shoe was on the other foot, I do not believe that I would have sued him.
In 1955, the partners of Aron Manor Nursing Home, except for Samuel Nirenstein, decided to expand their interest in the health care industry by bidding on the purchase of the Brooklyn Thoracic Hospital. The building was about 75 years old and was located on the corner of St. John’s Place and Kingston Ave. in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
This hospital had previously housed patients infected with tuberculosis. With the discovery of new drugs and equipment, the number of those suffering from this disease decreased greatly; consequently, the hospital was no longer needed. The edifice was put up for sale to the highest bidder. The two highest bidders were my clients and Rabbi Bergman, who already owned several nursing homes in the metropolitan area. After a brief period of negotiation, Rabbi Bergman consented to withdraw his bid.
After some renovation, the building was converted to a nursing home, called the Garden Nursing Home which housed 300 patients on four floors, practically all being paid for by Medicaid. The staff, other than the nurses, consisted of many relatives of Aron Maged, Leo Rapaport and Al Moskovits. Hilda, not very enamored with housework, jumped at the opportunity to be the asst. administrator under Mr. Maged, who was the administrator.
Since Dennis was now 7 years of age, his mother felt it was time to go to work. She hired a wonderful Negro woman named Ethel who had 3 sons; Dennis adored her and the feeling was mutual. In fact, until his teen-age years, she was his confidante through his troublesome period at school about which I will relate later on.
During the 20 years that I was the accountant and Hilda was the administrator, we became very close to the patients who loved us. One of the women patients in her late seventies addressed me as “papa” and Hilda as “mama”. Every month, when I came to do the audit, I would visit her in her room and speak to her. She would write letters to me as a child would write to her father and give them to Hilda to bring to me.
We had season tickets to the Philharmonic, N.Y.C. Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera, all at Lincoln Center. Even though we lived in Flatbush, we went out of our way, after attending these events, to make surprise inspections at the nursing home at mid-night.
We were concerned about the patients lying in their urine and feces as though we were owners of the facility. On arriving at the Home, Hilda and I would go with the nurse’s aides with flashlights and inspect all 300 patients on the 4 floors to be assured that they were sleeping comfortably in a dry condition; she inspecting the women patients and I inspecting the male patients.
On Xmas day, Kenny and Dennis would go with us to the Home to speak to the patients and bring the Holiday spirit to their forlorn lives. The boys would take movies and still photographs and then show them the next year. I can still hear them exclaim when viewing the movies, “Paul is no longer with us; what a pity;” ”Look how nice Mary looked last year, too bad she died.”
Every Xmas Eve, the four of us would visit Ethel and her sons at her apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant a section of Brooklyn inhabited primarily with a Negro population. Since she was living without an adult male in her house, she and her children were elated to see us and enjoy the gifts we brought them. In addition, the four of them had very little contact with white folk and they loved us for it. Apropos of this, Hilda and I took Ethel several times to an all Negro night club on Fulton St. where I danced with her and we all had a great time.
We kept in touch with Ethel for many years after she ceased working for us. Whenever she took ill, she would phone us and we immediately visit her at her home and once in the hospital. She probably has passed away since we no longer hear from her and there is no answer at her home when we called.
Perhaps, the Almighty has blessed our family for the deeds expressed above, especially for our actions at the nursing home where we were only the accountant and an employee.