Just over a year ago, StarPoint Home Care was born from a unique and visionary community partnership. Early on, however, when personal tragedy struck the organization, that partnership—along with the viability of StarPoint itself—was severely challenged. Today, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, those early challenges have left StarPoint well prepared to deal with a serious crisis.
When The Jewish Home of Cincinnati sold Cedar Village in the summer of 2018, it initiated a collaboration with The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati to bring the home care division of the Cedar Village retirement community—Cedar Village Home Care—to Jewish Family Service (JFS), where it was renamed StarPoint Home Care.
Kathy Schulze, who came over from Cedar Village, was appointed Director of StarPoint. Schulze was tasked with managing a smooth transition of services, and one of her first decisions was to hire her former colleague and confidant, Debbie Balk, as StarPoint Manager. Delighted to be working together again—and in brand new roles—the excitement Schulze and Balk felt would be tragically short-lived; just ten days into Balk’s employment, Schulze died very suddenly.
Immersed in grief and in a state of shock, Balk hardly had time enough to say goodbye to her friend before she had to grab the reins of leadership and carry on with StarPoint’s work. “It was devastating,” Balk remembered. ‘Kathy wasn’t just my colleague, she was a friend. More than a friend—we’d had breast cancer together. That was our ‘sister cry’; we had survived and made it through.”
Fortunately Balk was not alone during this difficult time. Schulze had also hired two of Balk’s most trusted Cedar Village colleagues: Alicia Reid and Tonia Burton. The three were already friendly prior to Schulze’s untimely death, but now, under these trying circumstances, their collective friendship was forged.
Not only did this sense of interpersonal reliance make them stronger, it also helped them collaborate—as a team—to ensure StarPoint’s success. They all felt the solemn responsibility of carrying on Schulze’s legacy. “It mattered to the three of us,” Balk said, “and I think people in the community felt that. We knew them, and they knew us. They knew we could handle the business, because we had all worked together at Cedar Village.”
Fast-forward one year, and StarPoint Home Care is on the front lines of an unprecedented, global health crisis. But the agency is not only surviving, it is honing the skills of crisis management that continually keep them one step ahead.
With safety its number one concern, StarPoint has enacted strict protocols to ensure client safety. And by carefully adhering to these measures, StarPoint has been able to offer many of the same services they were delivering prior to the viral outbreak. StarPoint caregivers can prepare meals following kosher dietary laws; drive clients to medical appointments or on shopping excursions; help with bathing, grooming, and dressing; or simply provide heartfelt companionship while assisting with the basic activities of daily life.
“Our goal,” Balk said, “is to take away the worry from family members—who might be struggling with choices about safe living conditions—by enabling clients to minimize risks, while also empowering them to live with dignity and security.”
“In this new COVID era,” Balk continued, “StarPoint’s team of caregivers are equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) approved by the CDC. Our aides provide care and companionship to those who are isolated and in need of a helping hand. In a time when family members are not always able to see their loved ones, we can be their eyes, ears, and hearts.”
Balk was quick to note that the success of StarPoint is due to the hard work of her trusted colleagues—Reid and Burton—and the dedication of the in home caregivers. As StarPoint’s Assistant Manager, Reid has brought professionalism and compassion to her role. Responsible for training and managing StarPoint’s 55 full- and part-time caregivers, Reid quickly implemented a highly successful monthly training program that keeps StarPoint’s private-duty aides on the leading edge of caregiver techniques. “Alicia never fails to tackle a new project or challenge with strength and conviction,” Balk said. “She’s been a real force in the face of this coronavirus, and her heart always beats for our clients!”
Burton’s initial role with StarPoint was to leverage her deep organizational experience to provide savvy, administrative support. Today, as the Sales & Marketing Manager, she is focused on sharing the agency’s one-of-a-kind profile with the greater community.
For Balk, the connection with Burton goes deeper than work: “At Cedar Village, Tonia would often take care of my late mother, Ruth Kerbel. She even helped my mother be a part of her grandson’s New York wedding, through the use of FaceTime. Tonia and my mom were in Ohio, on one end of the call, and I was on the other—essentially broadcasting the wedding from New York.”
For her part, Balk credits her parents for who she is. She likens her childhood to being an army brat, but in her case, her father dragged the family all around the country from one Jewish Federation to another (Rochester, NY; Hollywood, FL; Denver, CO; Washington, DC; and Wilmington, DE). “The car trips, escapades, and travails...” Balk’s voice trailed off as she thought back, “but no matter where we were, my parents always had wonderfully interesting guests at our dinner table. It was sort of part and parcel to my dad’s work.”
Sometimes, it would be famous people, like Elie Wiesel or Dennis Prager. Other times it would be Russian immigrants who were brand new to America. All these years later, Balk said the constant embrace of strangers into all of her childhood homes “speaks volumes to the kind of people my parents were; there was always a place at the table for someone who had nowhere else to go.”
Years later, Balk was the first of her friends to transition parents to a non-independent life. It was not easy, but the experience exposed her to the importance of in home care and the extraordinary value of professional caregivers. It also changed her career arc; she left education and found an ideal job at Cedar Village. In her new role, Balk felt authentic, honest, and true to who she was as a person. “There was no veneer; I was myself,” she said, “and when you find something that makes you get up and want to do it every day, you know you’ve found your true calling.”
Now the Director of StarPoint, Balk works hard to nurture the partnerships and affiliations that StarPoint values—whether it is with JFS’s Center for Holocaust Survivors, Village Home Health and Hospice, Cedar Village, or the Mayerson JCC Senior Center.
It is the relationship with JFS, in particular, that Balk credits with helping StarPoint stand out in the world of caregiver services. “The leadership of JFS’s CEO Liz Vogel, the generosity of the JFS staff, and the support of the Shared Business Services team have each been important to the current success of StarPoint,” Balk said.
Today, with this inaugural year of tragic challenges and life lessons behind them, and the profound challenge of COVID-19 in front of them, StarPoint Home Care’s Debbie Balk, Alicia Reid, and Tonia Burton still like to lean on each other for inspiration, courage, and strength. Their strong bond helps to ensure that the older adults in our community will continue to feel comfortable, secure, and independent while remaining in familiar surroundings.