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Experience what Jerusalem seniors are going crazy for: your own personal financial, organizational and bureaucratic assistant!

Would you like someone to help you with annoying bureaucratic hassles such as:

  • Organizing documents for your tax preparation (Israeli, U.S., England)
  • Health insurance reimbursements
  • Utility and communication bills
  • Bituach Leumi
  • Banking

Would you like to work with someone who speaks your language and can deal with the banks, etc. in Hebrew  – so you don’t have to?

Would you like to spend more quality time with your children rather than asking them to do paperwork and phone calls for you?

Would you like help filing and reducing the piles of paperwork cluttering your home?

Would you like more clarity about your financial situation in Israel and abroad?

Would you like to know exactly where your expenditures are going and how you can lower them?

Have you been reconciling your checkbook for years but are no longer able to do it?

Do you need help with typing, computer and cell phone usage?

Blum061All this and more is what you’ll get when you hire Jody Blum, M.S.W.

Jody Blum has been helping seniors for over 16 years, easing the burden of paperwork and creating a deep sense of freedom, relief and peace of mind.

Through individual sessions in the privacy of your own home, you’ll receive one-on-one attention to bring more control to your life.

Call for a free introductory meeting today.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jody Blum, M.S.W.
054-788-8760
jodyblum@gmail.com

Wanted: an “organizational intermediary”

Organizational Intermediary (JPost)

by Yochanan Altman (The Jerusalem Post)

Three years ago, Rivka, 72, was hit by a motorcycle while she was walking in Jerusalem. The accident changed her life dramatically. Formerly an active and mobile senior, Rivka was unexpectedly thrust into an unfamiliar world, one initially dominated by hospitals and medical staff, and then, after a long and continuing recuperation, a bureaucratic landscape whose contours were defined by piles of paperwork, often obstinate insurance companies and the rigors of 24 hour care.

Among the systems that Rivka needed to put in place was finding someone (as is often the case, a foreign worker) to be with her at all times. While there are many agencies in Israel that provide this service, once the caregiver is set up, there is a hidden layer of bureaucracy that Rivka, already burdened by her physical changes, found increasingly overwhelming.

For example, she needed to pay Bituach Leumi (Israel’s social security) on behalf of her caregiver on a quarterly basis and visas and work permits had to be renewed on time. The agency sent the forms direct to Rivka’s caregiver, but they were long and complex and, moreover, in Hebrew, a language the caregiver didn’t speak and Rivka, as an immigrant from North America, had a hard time with.

Meanwhile, Rivka was struggling to keep up with the documentation required by medical insurances she held in two countries, Israel and the U.S., some of which had to be completed weekly and mailed in almost as frequently.

These are just some of the problems that seniors in life-changing circumstances can face, explains Jody Blum, who heads up Service for Seniors Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization that serves as an intermediary between senior clients and the indifferent institutions with which they must deal.

Blum, who has an M.S.W. from the University of California at Berkeley, with a specialization in geriatrics, says that in cases like Rivka’s, hiring a knowledgeable and sympathetic assistant can make an enormous difference in quality of life. And it’s not just for seniors who are on their own. “Adult children, even if they live nearby, don’t want to spend all of the time they have with their parents dealing with these bureaucratic issues.” When Blum enters the process, valuable free time can be freed up. “It can really improve the dynamics in a family under sudden stress. The question really is: who’s going to handle all of the things that the senior can’t and the family doesn’t want to. Sometimes it’s better to hire someone.”

Rivka’s story demonstrates a growing need for such “organizational intermediaries.” Blum says she also works with seniors suffering from a different type of elderly incapacitation: memory loss and dementia. The problem is similar: dealing with the bureaucracy of banks, health funds and preparing materials for tax professionals – all of which is convoluted even when clear headed – can be near impossible when the mind begins to deteriorate.

Take reconciling credit card statements with bills. Without someone to essentially “manage” that process, a senior can easily slip into overdraft. “One of the first things I do with a client, at whatever stage they’re in, is get them online with their banks, so they don’t have to run out every month to ask for paper print outs,” Blum says. “Some of my clients check their statements online themselves; for others I do it for them. For one client I have with dementia, I let the bank know when she needs to transfer money over from her savings to checking accounts or bring in dollars. It’s critical to build a trusting relationship. Money is such an intimate topic!”

Sometimes a senior may be sharp as a tack but is thrown into uncharted waters by the death of a spouse who formerly handled all the financial issues. This can result in unnecessary or inadvertent overspending.

Blum gives an example that will be immediately familiar – even to non-seniors. “Phone bills are deliberately tricky and hard to read,” she explains. “One of my clients was paying for a 500 minute a month package, but when we looked at her calling habits, we discovered she was making less than 200 minutes a month of calls. Another client had canceled one of her cell phone plans but she was still getting billed NIS 160 a month. This had been going on for years. It added up to almost NIS 2,000 a year! We found the mistake and requested a refund retroactively. We got it and the client saved many thousands of shekels.”

Another situation where Blum saved a client a bundle: “Three years ago, one of my clients received an email from an organization she had worked for offering long term nursing insurance. It was all in Hebrew and she didn’t understand it, but I signed her up at only NIS 100/month. After a year of paying in, she qualified and now receives benefits of more than NIS 4,000 every month.” These are the types of everyday matters that can slip through the cracks without a professional involved.

Setting up a filing and tracking system, one that a senior can actually use, takes place in both the real world and in the virtual. Despite the increasing use of social media and email by seniors, computers can be intimidating even when they’re working well. So when the system goes down – as it inevitably will – Blum will stay on the line with the technician in a senior’s home until the problem is fixed. “My clients think I’m some kind of computer genius,” she laughs.

Seniors with means can benefit from creating a system to track what they’re giving to charity. Such a system should indicate how much the senior has given, to whom and when, so that when the senior receives a call from a charity, he or she can easily reference past history with that group or similar ones. “Very often, people wind up giving twice to the same charity without knowing,” Blum adds.

In addition to the “usual” challenges for seniors, immigrants who move to Israel late in life face the trial of managing an alien bureaucracy in a language they may not understand fully. A useful trick in this case is to schedule appointments with service providers during the time the senior is already meeting with someone like Blum. That way, someone will be there who understands the situation better, can speak Hebrew to the provider, and can advocate on the senior’s behalf.

Blum isn’t the only game in town. “There are groups that help with specific issues, like getting out of overdraft or setting up appointments with doctors and the like. What I offer is different,” she says. “It’s comprehensive, including the organizational, financial and – most important – emotional/personal element. Someone else can certainly go through all your files, but ultimately you want to work with someone you trust, to whom you can open up your heart; someone who really cares and loves you.”

And if that love can also save some money while freeing more quality time with the family, it seems like an eminently solid investment.

Q&A with Jody Blum

Why did you want to work with seniors?

I always had a very close relationship with my grandparents. I enjoyed their company and their stories. But I lived very far away from them – even more so when I moved away from home after college. I realized I wanted more of a connection with people of that generation. So when I first came to Israel, I volunteered to visit seniors in their homes in Safed. That was the beginning of my “working” love affair with seniors. I always felt love towards them, and love and appreciation from them. There’s always been a deep personal connection between me and every one of my clients.

Tell us a little about your background – personal and educational.

I was born in Cleveland in 1962 and moved to Los Angeles when I was 2-years-old. I went to UCLA for my undergraduate studies, majoring in psychology and business administration. In 1985, after college, I came to Israel and enrolled in the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) program. I then spent two years studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, to improve my knowledge and observance of Jewish tradition. I also met my husband there. We moved back to the U.S. in 1987 and I went on to complete an MSW with a specialization in geriatrics at UC Berkeley. We returned to Israel in 1994 and have lived in Jerusalem ever since with our three children.

Where did you work before Israel?

My first job was at Vesper Hospice where I was a caseworker helping people at the end of their lives and their families cope with the emotional stress of dying. At the same time, I started with the Northern California Presbyterian Homes Western Park Apartments, a senior residential facility, as their in-house social worker. I was the only social worker there for 200+ residents. My main goal was to help the residents stay independent at home. That included everything regarding the financial, social, emotional, physical and mental health realms of their lives.

I would help them in crisis management – for example, if someone had a fall and needed hospitalization. I helped them get the government benefits they were eligible for, as well as physical help, such as crutches and walkers after breaking a hip. I dealt a lot with Medicare and the offices of the health insurance organizations. Plus there was grief and general counseling and coordinating medical visits. It was a very demanding, but rewarding, job.

What did you do professionally when you got to Israel?

After I made aliyah, I landed a job in the Office in Social Welfare for City of Jerusalem. I was a case manager for 250 seniors, all of whom were living at home. I would see some clients on a weekly basis; others I’d just see just once. I would help them with family problems; I’d make sure they got all the rights they were owed from bituach leumi (Israel’s social security administration), I’d take care of their paperwork for that. And I’d determine whether it was safe for them to continue living on their own. It was in many ways similar to what I was doing in California, just not in a single residential building.

I then took a few years off to raise my three children. When I went back to work, I decided to go out on my own. I founded a small business called Personal Organization Services, which helped people manage all the “piles of paperwork,” as I liked to call it, that they’d accumulated at home or in their home offices. I didn’t work exclusively with seniors but I always had a significant senior client base.

While running Personal Organization Services, I took a class on household budgeting. This would change my life. It turned out I was very good at it. I was the A+ student in the class! And it worked. My husband and I started saving money. I realized I could offer that to private clients as well. I called the next phase in my entrepreneurial journey minusPLUS.

What did minusPLUS do?

At the time, overdraft was a very serious issue in Israel. Since then, the banks have created new policies, but 10 years ago, people were really out of control, falling into major debt (or “minus” as it’s called here). Immigrants had the hardest time understanding the situation – it was so different than what they were used to in the old country. And everything was in Hebrew. That turned out to be a big advantage that I brought to the table: I can communicate with the Hebrew-speaking bureaucracy for my clients who may not be fluent in the language.

I started by teaching group classes, then moved on to one-on-one support, seeing people in the privacy of their own homes, where we could work with their own paperwork and bills, with their computers open in front of us. I would set up my clients on a software program called Quicken so they could ultimately do their household budgeting independently of me.

I love helping people save money, beating the system, advocating on their behalf with service providers, maintaining order and bringing relief. But most of all, I love developing personal relationships with people. I fall in love with each and every one of my clients. I find my work to be a total joy – if you can call dealing with Israeli bureaucracy a joy! I have been doing this since 2004.

And now you’ve opened Service for Seniors…

Yes. A big part of my client base at minusPLUS was seniors and now, with Services for Seniors, I am focusing exclusively on this population, helping them set up and maintain their budgeting and financial systems, pay bills and, yes, manage those ever-growing piles of paperwork. For some seniors with memory loss, it’s hard to maintain an organized system. For others, my help frees up their adult children from the task of maintaining their parent’s financial, bureaucratic and organizational issues so that they can spend more quality time with their loved one. It’s really an ideal situation. I combine my geriatric social work background and intimate knowledge of seniors’ needs with one-on-one hands-on coaching and a focus on organization and finances.

Can you give us an example of the kind of work you do for your senior clients.

Sometimes you never know what will hit you…literally. One of my clients was in a serious car accident. It was a life-changing medical situation and we needed to quickly create a complete financial analysis of her income and spending. Her unexpected physical condition taxed her savings. We needed to assess her situation to determine if she had enough money to live on. Now I work with her on a regular basis to stay on top of her budgeting. I make sure that her caregiver’s quarterly bituach leumi payments are made and that visas and work permits are renewed on time.

For this client – and all my senior clients – I help them get online with their banks, so they don’t have to run out every month to ask for paper print outs and can do simple tasks like order checkbooks via the web. Some clients check their statements online themselves; for others I do it for them. One of my most challenging clients has dementia; her children trust me to honestly manage her finances, to let her know when she needs to transfer money over from her savings to checking accounts or bring in dollars. I’m the responsible one keeping the finger on the pulse, so to speak.

What is the first thing you do with a new client?

The most important first task is to attack all of a client’s bills – Internet, gas, electric, water, telephone (including home, long distance and cellular) – we go over it all with a fine tooth comb to ensure that they’re only paying for what’s necessary; that they cancel services they’re not using; and that they add any services that might be helpful. Usually in just the first few meetings, I can save a client thousands of shekels. Then we start cleaning up the client’s filing systems, getting rid of things and making it easier to access what’s important.

I implore my clients to make lists of all their accounts. I’ve had clients find accounts with tens of thousands of shekels that they didn’t remember they had.

Sometimes my work involves teaching clients how to use technology, such as their computers, phones and fax machines. Or I’ll do simple tasks for them – such as scanning an article they found in the newspaper and attaching it to an email to send to their grandchildren. One of my clients is an author with limited technical skills, so I help her by typing her articles into the computer.

What other ways can you save your clients money?

For some of my clients, I create a system for tracking charity, so they can see how much they’ve given, to whom and when. So when they get a call from a charity, they can easily reference their history with that group or similar ones. Very often, people wind up giving twice to the same charity without knowing. This puts them more in control of their giving.

It’s very important in Israel to track things carefully. Companies will often offer services for a limited time only, after which the price jumps back up. It’s true that the companies are getting better at informing people when the “deal” period is over, but not always. And even if they do, they may send an SMS or mail in Hebrew and the client doesn’t understand what it’s staying. So I create a system so that my client or I gets in touch with these paid services every half year to year, to ensure that we are always getting the best price possible.

Here’s a specific example: one of my clients got a great deal from Orange (their cell phone provider) that had no monthly fee for an entire year. So I wrote in the calendar the week before the offer was due to expire and contacted Orange to ask if there was a new or better deal. And there was. So instead of my client getting charged an additional fee, they changed their package on time and saved even more money.

The phone companies are notoriously difficult to work with.

That’s for sure! Phone bills are deliberately tricky and hard to read. One of my clients was paying for a 500 minute a month package, but when we looked at her calling habits, we discovered she was making less than 200 minutes a month of calls. So we called Bezeq (her phone operator), calculated how many agorot it would cost to pay by the minute, and we wound up saving NIS 60 every month by eliminating the original plan.

Another client had canceled one of her cell phone plans but she was still getting billed NIS 160 a month. This had been going on for years. It added up to almost NIS 2,000 a year! We found the mistake and requested a refund retroactively. We got it and the client saved many thousands of shekels, not to mention all the thousands she would have paid in the coming years if the error had not been caught. My clients trust me to be their advocate; that I will go out and get them the best prices, just as I would for my own family.

Do you work mostly with couples? Singles?

I work with both, but the truth is, I have a lot of clients who are widows and I start working with them after their husbands have died. In some of these cases, the husband took care of all the finances. He read all the bills and knew where all the money was going. This can be very overwhelming for a newly widowed woman and I can help them provide the expertise that’s tragically gone missing.

You’ve been described as a “hired daughter.” What does that mean exactly?

In addition to all the organizational and bureaucratic work I do for my clients, a personal relationship always grows. Yes, my clients do pay me, but they get a friendly ear that will always be there to listen. They can share things they may not be comfortable sharing with their own children, be it financial, emotional or physical. Our work together is completely confidential. My clients know they can tell me anything and they can trust that it won’t go beyond the walls of their house.

Aren’t there other organizations that do similar work?

There are groups that help with specific issues, like getting out of overdraft or setting up appointments with doctors and the like. What I offer is different: it’s comprehensive, including the organization, financial and – most important – emotional/personal element. It combines my communication and relationship skills with my background in psychology, social work, geriatrics and business administration. So, for another organization, it’s not so much about replicating a “system” but rather a person with a unique set of skills. Someone else can go through all your files and even save you money, but ultimately you want to work with someone you trust, to whom you can open up your heart; someone who really cares and loves you.

I know it sounds like a cliché but it’s true: this is more than a job for me. It’s a passion. I really love working with seniors and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to open Services for Seniors.

Testimonials

I have been working with Jody Blum since 2006. She has been assisting me with organizing all of my endless paperwork and interacting on my behalf with service providers like the cable and telephone companies; financial institutions such as banks and credit card companies; and sparing me the hassle of dealing with difficult government agencies and bureaucracy. She has also set me up to manage my banking via the Internet and she helps me with my ongoing filing.

Her knowledge and negotiation skills, helping me receive the lowest prices and find the best deals, have been truly invaluable. Through her insight and perseverance, Jody has saved me time, money and headache dealing with both Israeli and U.S. authorities. She will stay on the phone with the right office for hours…so I don’t have to.

Jody has great “spatial intelligence” and helped me organize my “hutch.” When I moved to my new apartment, it was Jody who managed the entire transition with the many, many service providers. She has clearly earned her weight in gold.

Jody has been working with seniors since earning her M.S.W. in Geriatrics in 1990. In 2002, she began focusing on supporting seniors with their finances. She is kind, generous and most of all patient – and these days, we all need a little more of that! I trust Jody implicitly – I have no secrets from her.

I am writing to you now to recommend that you talk to Jody if you want to make your life easier. Let Jody take care of you in the same way she’s helped me for all these years.

Best regards,

Chana Givon

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