During a crucial roundtable discussion with the executive team of the Sephardic Division of Chaim Medical, Rabbi David M. Haber explores the all-encompassing scope of the organization, as well as the tremendous love and care that are responsible for the transformative impact of their life-changing endeavors.
Nathan Hoffman, Co-founder and Senior Case Manager
Ezra Zaafarani, Co-founder and Senior Case Manager
Abe Sutton, President
Norman Jemal, Vice President
RH: The medical world is frequently misunderstood, particularly post-Covid, which is why Chaim Medical is so important. In its simplest form, what is Chaim Medical?
NH: An experienced team that is dedicated towards helping people overcome medical challenges. In a nutshell, this encompasses an organization of over 60 people who specialize in separate areas of medicine to support patients.
EZ: Medicine is so much more complex than it was 10-20 years ago. That’s why the help we offer is mainly educational.
AS: Chaim Medical also provides access to information they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
NH: It’s where to find the best doctor, the best hospital… what kind of questions to ask, how to prepare for an appointment…
RH: So, the average person who goes to the hospital, myself included, barely understands the technicalities of what is really happening. How does Chaim Medical change that?
EZ: I think people are surprised to hear the different questions we ask but, in many cases, it’s something mentioned during intake that proves crucial to the case.
NH: It often starts when somebody suspects they’re not feeling well and they don’t know where to begin. They call Chaim Medical and now they feel, wow, I’ve got somebody in my corner. I can rely on them to help me through it.
AS: Most of the time patients grant us access to their medical portal, which allows our well-trained medical coordinators to look into their case.
RH: So, what does the intake process look like?
EZ: Every patient is asked a sequence of detailed questions, which helps us categorize the case and ascertain its level of urgency. Next, they are assigned a case manager, an assistant case manager, and a medical coordinator. Every patient has three people constantly monitoring their case.
NH: They have an army behind them and they feel it. Just this week we had a challenge where tissue slides needed to be sent from one NYC hospital to another and the family was calling the hospital relentlessly, without success. You can imagine what the family was going through! Then one of our team members stepped in and said: I’ll take care of it. And it was transferred that very day. Now, this patient will likely receive treatment faster than they typically would. But that’s not the point.
AS: It’s that somebody took over the worry.
RH: If somebody receives an appointment far into the future, what should they do?
NJ: Take the appointment and then call us to expedite it.
NH: Not every case warrants an expedite, but when presented properly, doctors are usually happy to expedite appointments when necessary. It’s about understanding how the medical system works.
RH: This is somewhat of a sensitive question. Ultimately, none of you are doctors; why should somebody trust a seemingly amateur group to handle anything medical?
AS: They’re not amateurs and they’re not telling anyone what to do. They’re simply sharing Chaim Medical’s vast knowledge to help them make a decision.
RH: I know Chaim Medical has access to information, experimental treatments, and studies. How does that help?
NJ: People don’t generally think to seek an opinion from a hospital in Houston or Minneapolis. But a coordinator who researches this day in, day out, will know which hospital has dealt with something similar and they will reach out for an opinion.
NH: We’ve had many situations where doctors from top hospitals worldwide have consulted on a case because of our relationship with those doctors. It happens all the time.
EZ: We’ve been involved in complex neurosurgery cases where we got 10 opinions from around the world in 48 hours. So yes, these connections come into play and it’s comforting to know we can call upon them when needed.
RH: What categories does Chaim Medical deal with?
NH: There isn’t a category that they don’t deal with.
RH: So, there’s no area in which Chaim Medical is unable to dig deeper for a patient. Another sensitive question: Is there ever a situation where one should give up hope?
NH: Those words aren’t in our dictionary. I’ve yet to come to a circumstance where there weren’t any options. Not every situation ends happily, unfortunately, but we never stop trying.
RH: Please share a story where you reached to the ends of the earth for someone, because for a lot of people, this is beyond the scope of their imagination.
NH: We’ve been involved in cases where doctors called the family three to four times to come and say their goodbyes. And I think if it weren’t for Chaim Medical, it would have been just once. End of story. But we constantly asked, what do we have to do to get the patient through the next 24-hours? Over and over again. And then imagine hearing that the patient is coming home?! All you need is one story to realize that you should never give up and really, that’s what Chaim Medical is all about.
RH: True. It sounds like very intense work. What does it take to be a Chaim Medical team member?
AS: In one word, commitment. If the patient or their family needs you, you need to be available. We don’t like to say 24/7, but that’s what it is.
NH: Approximately 10% of our cases are urgent. And from our point of view, those cases are anytime, anywhere, anyplace. We’re always with you.
NJ: This is actually an important point. There are many things that don’t need to be dealt with immediately. As Nathan said, 10% of our cases are urgent, but the other 90% just need proper guidance.
RH: What do you wish people knew?
EZ: How much our team loves every community member. I don’t know 70% of the people we deal with and it doesn’t matter. I’ll stay up all night for whomever. If it’s a community member, if it’s a Jew, it’s my pleasure! And I think every team member is like that. The software rings on our phones day and night, so there is always somebody with you around the clock. It’s love for our fellow Jews during their time of need.
RH: What is the current caseload?
NH: We have 160+ active cases at any given time. And the list, unfortunately, keeps growing.
AS: The non-urgent cases require less input but there are 100 of those…
NH: Yes, and that’s just in our community. Chaim Medical, the parent organization of our division, deals with thousands of cases every day. The 160+ cases are from our division alone.
RH: I want to address another aspect because I’ve been there and I think it’s important. What can you advise a family member taking a patient to the hospital?
NH: Be prepared.
NJ: You’ve got to be really present. Pay attention, introduce yourself, say hello, say thank you.
EZ: Many times, we deal with complicated family dynamics, and we always recommend appointing one contact person for the family, so we can go back and forth and everybody can get the information from that one person.
NH: You know, something as small as asking for CDs after imaging. It’s a small thing but you know how much time that could save?
AS: The average person that is thrust into a medical issue doesn’t know what to do.
NH: And they don’t want to do it. Nobody wants to be sick. Nobody wants their family members to be sick. We recognize that if the roles were reversed, Gd forbid, we would need somebody to tell us what to do, too. There are a lot of emotions.
EZ: Many times, I’ll call a team member to review a case. Imagine, we’re doing this every day and I still sometimes need to bounce it off somebody else. How much more so does a clueless family member need to bounce it off somebody so they can figure out their next step.
RH: Also, some people get scared off by medical terms and they assume that if somebody in a lab coat said it, it’s written in stone.
NJ: You need to trust doctors, but you should take notes and you should review the case with someone knowledgeable.
AS: And there might be another doctor in a lab coat with another opinion.
NJ: To be sure, doctors save lives. We’re just facilitating the process and helping you find a doctor you can trust.
RH: Tell me about the skillset and dedication of your team.
NH: Dedication is really the first and foremost aspect. Never in my life have I seen a group as dedicated as the people working for Chaim Medical. Ezra and I get shocked every day, seeing how they go above and beyond for a community member in need.
RH: Do you have a parting message?
AS: We want the community to know that they don’t have to go through a medical crisis alone.