After 24 years as president and CEO of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Molly Forrest is stepping down and making a lateral move, to become president of the Jewish Home Foundation. Dale Surowitz, CEO of Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center will replace Forrest beginning Oct. 1.
“At age 72, it’s time, don’t you think?” said Forrest of her role in the organization that got its start in 1912 when some caring neighbors gave shelter to five homeless Jewish men during Passover.
“I am very fortunate that when I met with the board over three years ago for my current contract, I said that I planned to retire at 72 but I wanted to [continue to] help the home,” she said. “And they said, ‘Well, what about if you take a different role?’ And without carrying the burden and responsibilities?’ Running an organization of any size is always a challenge in a not-for-profit and running a health care organization not-for-profit in the times of COVID has a special emphasis of its own.” (The Home has seen relatively few COVID-19 cases among its residents with about 2% of 1,200 testing positive.)
In her new, modified role, Forrest will focus primarily on fundraising. Optimistic by nature, she said, “Everyone is worried about the economy. Actually, some of the biggest gifts ever to not-for-profits and to support community and health care services have traditionally been given in the Depression and in economic challenges. People stepped up.”
Forrest will also continue her advocacy work on behalf of seniors and those who serve them as the chair of LeadingAge California.
When she first took the position at the Jewish Home in 1996, the organization had an annual budget of $25 million and served 500 people. Today, the annual budget is close to $160 million and the home serves 4,000 individuals.
“Many people think the Home is like a small nursing home in the Valley and we have not been that for many, many years,” Forrest said. “We operate now 14 different programs in residence and in the community. We serve frankly more people in the community than [those] who live with us on an annual basis.”
“The Jewish Home has been very near and dear to my heart for just about my entire life. I had relatives who were in the Jewish Home when I was a child. And subsequent to that, I’ve been involved with different support organizations at the Jewish Home over the years.” — Dale Surowitz
Among Forrest’s proudest accomplishments during her tenure was the establishment in 2007 of the home’s own nursing school thanks to a grant from the Annenberg Foundation and additional support from the late philanthropist Ruth Ziegler. “It makes a difference in how our residents are treated,” Forrest said. “We have to recognize health care is all about the way the last human touched my loved one or me.”
Very early in Forrest’s tenure, she met Surowitz. At the time, he was working at a different hospital that had close ties with the Home. It was a meeting of minds. And at the end of their initial conversation, they agreed to stay in close touch Forrest said. Since that first meeting, the two have gotten together every few months for breakfast or lunch and to discuss their work.
“Dale has been a colleague, a confidante, an adviser and a friend,” Forrest said. “I wanted the Home to hire him. But we’re too big to not do a national search. So, they did the national search and Dale applied and I was like leaping in the air when they chose him.”
Forrest continued, “He’s younger than me, which is a good thing. He wants to do this. He was born and raised in the Valley. We go to the same temple [Valley Beth Shalom in Encino]. So, I think this is going to be wonderful. Sometimes new people look at things [in a new way]. And that’s not bad for an organization. And I still get to work with the Home that I love and have worked so hard with. But I also get to work with someone that I trust will do a good job. He is going to be fabulous.”
Surowitz, 60, who lives in Tarzana said, “The Jewish Home has been very near and dear to my heart for just about my entire life. I had relatives who were in the Jewish Home when I was a child. And subsequent to that, I’ve been involved with different support organizations at the Jewish Home over the years. Ten years ago, I became involved on some of the boards of the Jewish Home and have really enjoyed that. So, I’m coming into it with both a passion for caring for seniors and their families as well as a deep appreciation for the mission and values of the Jewish Home.”
Surowitz will oversee an ambitious expansion. The Home hopes to serve a total of 10,000 seniors by 2025. Much of the growth is expected to focus on seniors aging in place. This includes the opening of a new Brandman Center in West Los Angeles. Brandman Centers for Senior Care, Forrest explained, are akin to one-stop shops offering services ranging from meals to physical therapy to transportation. She added they are currently in negotiations on a property.
“Many seniors feel much more comfortable staying in their homes,” Surowitz said. “If we bring services to them to provide them the care that they need, even potentially the treatments they need, I think it’s addressing the needs of a changing population …. We need to make sure we offer a diverse cadre of services.”
He added, “I am excited to be able to continue the great work that Molly has done and the Jewish Home has done and the leadership has done in caring for our seniors. I look forward to being able to expound on that and further develop the great foundation that’s already been established.”