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The Dorothy Program

The Dorothy Program

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The Dorothy Program
Hospital Visitation


The Dorothy Program aims to visit patients in state hospitals, long-term medical facilities, nursing homes, and those confined to private homes.

Patients receive visitations and the necessary provisions for the holidays. 
This program is organized and operated by volunteers.

We are in constant need of volunteers. 
If you would like to volunteer or be a visitor, please contact Brian Cynamon by calling The Aleph Institute at 412-421-0111 or via email at 
bcynamon@alephne.org . 



briancynamon.jpg            polkdorothy.jpg            polkdorothy2.jpg
Brian Cynamon                             State Institution for the Feeble-Minded                               Polk Center, present day


Read more about The Dorothy Program below:

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Woman's Death Spurs New Bikur Cholim Effort 
By Lee Chottiner, Executive Editor (The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh)

(This article was published in The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh on the 16th of Shevat 5765, 1/26/2005. The author Lee Chottiner can be reached at lchottiner@pittchron.com.)

Dorothy Schwadron lived 87 years in a state mental hospital without a single relative coming to visit her. She was buried in the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in Shaler Township with only two mourners present: the rabbi who officiated, and the mortician who made the arrangements.

For years, hospital officials didn't even know what religion she was. (Her parents apparently told the staff she was a Lutheran).

In the end, Dorothy exemplified how some people can be lost to their family, friends and community once they become wards of the state.

Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel thinks that should never happen again.

"It's very painful that a person should spend [87] years without personal contact in a state hospital," he said.

So Vogel, the executive director of the North East Region of Aleph Institute - and the rabbi who officiated at Dorothy's funeral - is starting a program to keep track of Jews in state hospitals and long-term nursing homes. The Dorothy Program, as it is being called, will kick off with a meeting for volunteers at 7 p.m., Jan. 30, at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill. 

The Dorothy Program would consist of a database for patients and clients in institutions across western Pennsylvania.

Using that database, volunteers can keep track of these people, making sure they are visited, that their life cycle needs are met, and that, in some way, they remain linked to their community.

Aleph Institute, a national support organization for Jewish prison inmates and their families, already has such a database for its incarcerated clients, so it is prepared to oversee this new effort, according to Vogel.

"This is a community-wide challenge," he said. "It needs a community-wide solution."

News of the effort pleased Richard Schwadron, Dorothy's nephew, who discovered his aunt was still alive when he did a genealogy search in 2000. He visited her before she died, re-establishing family ties that had been severed for decades.

"I think it's absolutely fantastic," Schwadron said of Vogel's project. "The Schwadrons were a rabbinic family, so putting the family name on an effort to help other people is an obligation of Kohanim. I feel great about it, and I'm sure my father would, too."

His father, Al Schwadron, died on Dec. 13 - three weeks before Dorothy, whom he had always been told was dead, passed away on Dec. 30 at Polk Center, in Venango County

She was 94 and had been institutionalized all but seven years of her life.

Unknown Community
The number of Jews living in state hospitals is hard to determine. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, 85 Jews live in the state's 15 state hospitals and centers for the mentally retarded. Together, they comprise 2 percent of the population in these facilities. At Polk, there are 374 residents, only three of whom are known to be Jewish. Still, there could be more Jews whose religion isn't known or, like Dorothy, were misclassified.

There is at least one "spiritual support director" at each institution, said to DPW spokesman Kevin Cramsey.

Additionally, the state has a contract with the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia to attend to specific needs of Jewish residents.

"Every one of these centers (hospitals) has a division of chaplaincy services," Cramsey said, "So this is certainly taken into account; we have the religion base covered. There's a contact person for all those hospitals and I believe they're all on site."

The Dorothy Program isn't the first effort to find institutionalized Jews. Last year, the Jewish Free Burial & Cemetery Association of Greater Pittsburgh, which buried Dorothy, sent a letter to area social workers, hospitals and nursing homes letting them know that the association exists in case they knew of any Jewish indigents with no place to be buried.

Sadly, the need for the cemetery association is growing, said its executive director, Wendy DeRoy. The association has recently buried two mentally retarded people, a baby born prematurely, and a man who spent much of his life homeless.

"There are not as dramatic cases [as Dorothy's]," DeRoy said, "but we're seeing more cases of people who are retarded or who are homeless."

Dorothy, who lived a life alone, was born on Dec. 24, 1910. At the time, according to nephew Richard, doctors probably considered her profoundly retarded, though today she could have been more integrated into society.

Nevertheless, her parents - Isaac and Ann Schwadron of Pittsburgh - committed her to the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded (later renamed Polk Center) in 1917. According to Polk's records, they visited her once in 1918 and kept in touch with the staff off and on until 1937. Isaac died in 1945, followed by Ann months later in 1946.

According to Polk officials, it was Dorothy's parents who told the hospital she was a Lutheran - to protect her, they speculate, given the climate of the times toward Jews.

After their deaths, Dorothy would have no link to her family until 2000 when Schwadron, a Squirrel Hill native who now lives in St. Louis, discovered, using old U.S. census records, that he had an aunt and that she was still alive.

"That's when I wrote and asked for copies of information.  They sent some letters from my grandmother asking how she was doing," he said. "Once they had a relative, they started sending yearly evaluations of how they treated her. I wrote back saying, 'You've had her this long...I can hardly tell you how to do it better.'"

Schwadron finally visited his aunt on Dec. 25, 2000.

Dorothy's motor skills had deteriorated by then. She didn't speak, but Schwadron thinks she recognized some familiar words he spoke to her.

"I asked her if she remembered abba and ima (Hebrew for mother and father), and she squeezed my hand both times," he said. He also brought along family pictures for Dorothy.

She no longer had teeth and couldn't chew, so the staff pureed a slice of pizza for her lunch. "She ate it all down and seemed to enjoy it," Schwadron said.

Before he left, he corrected the hospital records to show his aunt was Jewish.

Dorothy died on Dec. 30 from acute renal failure.

Schwadron had hoped to have her buried in Ahavath Achim Cemetery in Carnegie next to her parents, but her burial trust didn't cover it all. She was finally buried in Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, a burial ground for Jewish indigents.

Though she had spent 87 years in an institution - most of that time without outside contact - Cramsey said that is not unheard of. In fact, Polk alone has residents who were there even longer, he said.

That's where Vogel comes in.

"This is where it began, at her funeral" the rabbi said of the idea for the project. "I promised her. Please God, we can do better. There can't be another person sitting alone."