For Highlands House the apple does not fall far from the tree!


My brief was to interview Eliot and Bernard Osrin, as it is thought to be the first time that a father and son have simultaneously occupied the top leadership positions of a communal organisation, in this case Highlands House. But this was easier said than done Eliot firmly refused my request, saying he preferred to fly under the radar.

Eliot is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the home, while Bernard is its president, but, according to Osrin the elder, his sons involvement came about in spite of his own, not because of it.

I ask Bernard what it was like growing up in a home where his parents between them have headed most of Cape Towns communal organisations.

Certainly I was very aware of it, he begins, but there was never any pressure on me to get involved.

Nevertheless In my barmitzvah speech, I said that when I first learned the alphabet I had lots of problems because I understood it to be not ABCDEF but IUA, UCF, BZA! he quips.

Because of Bernards expertise in the field of investments, he was approached to sit on the Finance Committee of the home seven or eight years ago and, he smiles resignedly that was it.

Though he was very involved in Betar as a youngster, this is his first foray as an adult into the Jewish communal world. He says that the biggest operational challenge the home faces is in the area of medical expertise and staffing.

There is no question that there is a worldwide nursing shortage. A lot of South African nurses have taken temporary positions overseas, so theres been quite a drain in the number of nursing staff and its not the most attractive industry certainly one wouldnt go into it for the money. And it takes a certain kind of person who wants to look after old people.

Having said that, he notes that the nursing staff that are there are very committed, with many of them having served for 10, 15, 20, 25 years.

Weve had cases where people come into the home and the nursing staff remembers a family member they looked after 25 years ago, he says.

Our biggest area of complaint is probably food but that, I think, is because were a Jewish home! he laughs.

The main financial challenge is posed by the fact that the vast majority of residents cannot afford the full fee.

We see that as a continuing trend. In many cases I think its genuine. Unfortunately in many cases its because the family are not that willing, and in their view cant afford it. In our view, perhaps they can.

Thats one of the areas we focus on, so that at least we get a fair deal. But most applicants and their families play the game.

Another problem arises owing to the increasing trend of children living overseas, leading to difficulties in communication between them and the home.

Bernard is keen to re-launch Highlands House later this year, stressing that it is a different place from what it was 15 years ago.

Weve redone almost every room; weve created three or four lounge areas; weve redone the garden and the entrance; weve put in a coffee shop.

Ten years ago you arrived there and it smelled like Highlands House it had a hospital/clinic-type of smell and feel, whereas today its anything but a hospital. Harris (Burman, executive director) has instilled the culture that its a retirement home, and he maintains that many of the residents have a better quality of life than they had before they came to here.

As far as Eliot is concerned, he did relent briefly when I asked how he felt about Bernards following in his parents illustrious communal footsteps, warning, This is the only comment youre getting from me. Both my wife (Myra) and I have been involved for over 40 years and we are therefore very proud that our son is now involved.


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