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Facing enormous challenges, Mo Funk provided tireless, steady and engaged leadership during Pandemic

CEO Morris “Mo” Funk of Beth Sholom Senior Living makes hand sanitizer in the early part of the COVID pandemic. Beth Sholom Photo

By Skip Kozakewicz
Reflector Editor

Beth Sholom Senior Living President and CEO Morris “Mo” Funk has made numerous decisions while leading Beth Sholom for the past four years.

But the most difficult one was deciding to close the Beth Sholom campus abruptly and completely on March 12, 2020.

“I will never forget that day … it was like yesterday,” Mo noted. “With no warning to anyone – our board, residents, staff, local and federal agencies … I made the decision to close the campus … shut us down completely. This was not a discussion we had. I had to do it. We could not wait. The deadly virus was here.”

He continued, “At the end of the day, we are responsible for the safety of the residents we are serving. I decided to close the campus until we could get our hands around the virus.”

Looking back more than two years ago, he said no one could have predicted Beth Sholom would be shut down for the length of time that occurred.

“Our priority was trying to keep people safe and caring for them,” explained Mo.”

Once the campus was closed, he focused on communicating with family members, staff and local, state and federal authorities about the state of affairs on campus. He also adapted to knowing that things could change quickly and get worse with COVID. He had to improvise often.

The CEO is quick to emphasize that he is part of a strong team and gives credit to the Beth Sholom team for their performance. “They all focused on saving lives. I get more accolades than I deserve.”

Mo continued, “We were very fortunate to have a an extraordinary team that really stood out. In particular, my side kick at the time, Sybil Parker … with her assistance, direction and leadership helped saved lives.”

Sybil Parker RN, LNHA, QCP who was Vice President of Quality Assurance and Nursing Services at Beth Sholom, noted, “Shutting down was the right thing to do. It helped stop any widespread transmission (of COVID) before we really knew what we were dealing with. It was not a popular decision, but Mo made the right decision.”

Well before the pandemic, she admired the leadership of Mo Funk and during the crisis, she witnessed numerous examples.

“He communicates very well and is very transparent. He also listens to you and respects your comments. He doesn’t shirk from difficult decisions. He doesn’t run from them. And he handles the fall-out. All through the Pandemic, he was the one writing the letters to family members and taking the calls. Making decision after decision.”

He also singled handily took charge of obtaining Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and all the other necessary supplies that Beth Sholom needed, she said. “He was surrounded by boxes and all kinds of supplies. That was huge for us.”

She also recognizes support from the community and board.

“They were constantly dropping off supplies we needed. This support was amazing and due in large part to Mo keeping them informed.”

Sybil Parker is far from alone in saluting and recognizing the leadership style and professionalism of Mo Funk and his team both before and during the Pandemic.

Board Chair Janet Gale said, “Mo and his leadership team performed so heroically over the past two-plus years of this pandemic. The commitment to our mission of providing quality care never wavered, even as critical supplies were scarce, and health care staff even scarcer. I’m proud to support and work with such a stellar organization!”

She continued, “Knowing that most of us don’t want to think about a time when we might need care or help with our routine daily activities, it’s a comfort to know that Beth Sholom is there. We appreciate – and rely on – the community’s support that enables us to be there when we’re needed.”

Jonathan Joseph, Board Chair when the Pandemic began, added, “The safety of Beth Sholom’s residents and staff has always been at the forefront of Mo’s Pandemic response. As the Pandemic started to spread from the West Coast eastward in 2020, Mo made the decision to shut the facilities down …  before the federal government advised doing so. Although our facilities experienced an impact from the Pandemic it could have been much worse.”

Rabbi Randi Nagel, Beth Sholom Chaplain, worked very closely with Mo during the Pandemic, and emphasized, “Mo Funk has brought a new level of professionalism and positivity to Beth Shalom.   He was the right person, in the right place at the right time to lead us through the Pandemic and beyond.”

She continued, “He never backed down from a challenge, he never panicked and he always used what we learned at Beth Sholom to the benefit of the entire Jewish Community.”

She added, “Mo’s ability to stay positive and mission-focused even when things were at their worst gave all of us a beacon of light and hope to follow through the storm.  We could not have done it without him.”

Board member Melissa Brownstein, offered, “Mo and his team at Beth Sholom are nothing short of extraordinary.  I am so honored to serve as a Board Member of Beth Sholom, especially during these times of crisis, seeing first hand, both as a Board Member and as a family member of a resident during this COVID period,”

She continued, “Mo’s stellar and steadfast leadership has kept Beth Sholom at the forefront of safety, compassion and care for its’ residents and their families.  Mo has faced enormous challenges that have affected Healthcare facilities across the globe.

“From the beginning of this crisis to now, Mo has been hands on and fully engaged with his staff, Board and resident families.  He has worked tirelessly, addressing this crisis in a way that only a true leader can. Mo is a blessing to Beth Sholom and to our community and I am proud to call him a friend.”

Board Member Dan Siegel, a longtime community leader, said, “Mo Funk has been a true ‘lifesaver’ for the residents …  Having followed a remarkable legacy of Mark Finkel when he arrived – he quickly proved to be a thoughtful and caring leader.”

He added, “Throughout this crisis, Mo has been a steady hand in surmounting constant challenges of the pandemic, instituting procedure and management of complex health issues – saving lives of our residents and even the Beth Sholom Team.  Being among the first senior care facilities in the area to implement vaccination and PPE policies – all to protect our Campus residents and staff as best as possible.

“Somehow, he’s accomplished all of this with a calm, thoughtful and clear leadership, while assembling a caring and experienced Team to lead Beth Sholom for the years to come.”

Mo Funk noted that the positive response from the families, the board, the community and local agencies was very gratifying during the crisis. “Their support was awesome”

He explained, “When I reached out to the board and families for some money for staff support events, I received immediate responses and was able to get food trucks, giveaways and hold special events of all kinds.”

What followed was an enormous and regular support from many individuals, groups, Synagogues, churches and organizations of all types.

He also recognized the help from local community agencies. The Federation helped a number times with vital resources and financial support from their COVID Fund. Daniel Staffenberg reached out very early to offer assistance, he said.

At JFS, Wendy Kreuter has been a strong supporter of Beth Sholom and was always available to consult with him during the Pandemic – day or night, he said.

JFS President Wendy Kreuter noted, “When the Pandemic hit, I got a really good sense of how he was as a person and a leader. What I realized immediately was his keen sense of caring about his residents and his staff. I think that came through so strongly from the beginning.”

She explained, “He had to make difficult choices early and I know that was not easy.  But it was always in the very best interest of his residents and staff. You can see that in all that Mo does.  He puts so much thought in all he does. He knew it was the right thing to do (in closing the campus) even though he knew it would not be popular.”

Wendy Kreuter emphasized, “I think he saved lives in what he did. He had to bear the weight in doing that. It’s a credit to his leadership. He has great experience and very good connections. He has been very helpful too with our Hospice Project.”

Mo Funk cannot say enough about the support from his Board. “As the CEO, I am very fortunate to have this board. They all were extremely helpful and patient. To go through a crisis, I would pick them to support me, any day. What a good group.”

He emphasized that Beth Sholom follows a strong set of values and a Mission Statement in all it does. “We want to do all we do with our Jewish values in mind. We want to honor our fathers and mothers. I have asked our staff before and during the Pandemic to do the right thing in all we do. We are here to serve a vulnerable group of seniors. We are their eyes, ears and legs. We have a solid group of people to serve our residents.”

Sybil Parker, who retired in January 2022 after about 20 years at Beth Sholom, noted, “I can never forget what he did for Beth Sholom.  With my infection control background and skills, I could never have predicted we would have had such a Pandemic. We went into a survival mode very quickly and it lasted a good while. I could not have survived without Mr. Mo Funk. I know that.”

The community is proud about how Beth Sholom responded to the Pandemic and cherishes its many years of caring for seniors.

Board Chair Janet Gale said, “It’s a comfort to know that Beth Sholom is here to provide help and care when loved ones suddenly need it, and just as we want to be here for the community, we rely on the community for their support of Beth Sholom, to help keep Beth Sholom vibrant. We received an outpouring of support during the height of the pandemic, and with new requirements creating additional costs, the need for financial support continues.

“Richmond Jewish community organizations do so much for us all — Jewish and non-Jewish – and Beth Sholom is proud to play a critical role in that circle of life, being there when loved ones can receive help and care in their later years.”