Sunday, August 9th 2020   |

Michael Steiner takes over at JFS

By ALAN SMASON

(Editor’s Note: This article on new Jewish Family Service director Michael Steiner is the first of three planned articles on the three new executive directors in our community.)

With his thin statuesque frame and redoubtable smile, Michael Steiner cuts a dashing, almost Hollywood  leading-man figure that belies his new job description as executive director of Jewish Family Service (JFS). Yet, his easy and self-assured manner gives every indication that he is in charge and well prepared to tackle this important community leadership role.

Michael Steiner, the new executive director of Jewish Family Services. (Photo by Alan Smason)

Steiner, 55, a New Jersey native who grew up outside of Philadelphia, has had 30 years of experience in the community-related health and medical fields. He assumed his JFS position last month, replacing Deena Gerber, the much respected and admired social worker and administrator who had guided the agency for the past two decades.

As Steiner is keen to point out, his hire marks a departure for the 65 year-old agency. Unlike previous directors of Jewish Family Service, Steiner is a health care professional administrator and does not possess a masters of social work  (MSW) degree. Steiner’s hands-on experience has been in forming a bridge between clinical personnel and technical personnel.

He believes his primary strength deals with his detailed work as a strategic planner with various academic departments – many of them teaching hospitals. Most recently, he was an administrator for the University of Mississippi Clinical Information System located in Jackson, MS.

“I loved working in academic medical centers, pretty much because I was able to do clinical research,” he admitted in an interview with the CCJN.

Steiner’s academic background speaks to that end. He attended Temple University near his boyhood home and moved to New York following his graduation. While in New York for 12 years, he studied for his masters degrees at three different academic institutions. He obtained an audiology masters degree at Columbia University, an MBA from City University of New York and finished with a masters degree in strategic planning from New York University.

Following a two-year stint as a health care strategic planning consultant with the respected firm of Deloitte and Touche, Steiner elected to move to Houston and worked with the Baylor College School of Medicine as the administrator of anesthesia for five hospitals there.

“Almost all of my career has been in community medicine and community health and I was very fortunate through my career to build new programming and expanding programming into disadvantaged areas,” he continued.

He points out his successful work in implementing important work in HIV planning and developing, programs to benefit maternal healthcare as well as groups of newborns who are under-served.

Steiner asserts his past experience will allow JFS to focus on committing to those area community members who are under-served or may not have access to healthcare services presently.

“We are an organization that provides access to services that they may have difficulty accessing at other organizations,” Steiner said. “One of the things we need to do is to better inform the public of the services that we provide.”

He thinks there is ample opportunity to market what JFS does in their many different programs from Teen Life Counts to Lifeline. “I don’t believe there is broad enough knowledge about the work that we do for people of all ages and people of all incomes,” he averred.

The Teen Life Counts program works to prevent teenage suicide, while the Lifeline program makes medical monitoring available to families where people can alert a central monitoring station if they experience a health problem or injury.

Steiner believes his experience will enable him to evaluate the productivity and effectiveness of all of JFS’s different programs. “I think my background in the non–clinical areas will come in quite handily,” he said.

Because he is lacking an MSW degree, the JFS board of directors elected to promote two-year veteran Rachel Lazarus to be in charge of the counseling programs. These include counseling for children and family therapy.

Rachel Lazarus, clinical director for JFS, chats with new executive director Michael Steiner. (Photo by Alan Smason)

Steiner says that JFS was blessed to have a talented administrator and a MSW degree holder in the person of Gerber for those many years she held his position. But he does not believe this new, shared responsibility will be a problem. “It will be giving me the freedom to do what I do best and giving her the freedom to do what she does best,” he claimed. “Her experience is in the clinical area and she knows how it’s supposed to work.”

In his 30 years of work as a professional, Steiner says, this kind of dichotomy has always existed.

One of his other areas of responsibility will be in handling fundraising and philanthropic efforts for JFS. Funding from the Jewish Federation and the United Way account for between 12 and 17% annually. The remainder of the JFS budget requires fundraising efforts from individual donors and an annual fundraiser. Steiner anticipates this year’s fundraiser later in the fall will honor Gerber.

“For our counseling program, it doesn’t matter your religion or anyone else,” Lazarus pointed out. “Most of our programs are open to anyone in the community.”

Steiner concurs. “Of course they can receive services here,” he related. “From an ethical and a Jewish value standpoint it is just as important that we supply services to non-Jews because that’s a very Jewish thing to do: to be able to help people. It’s tikun olom – “repairing the world” – and all those things that we do ethically.”

Not only does JFS market services to Jews and non-Jews, Steiner stated, but it does so without any regard to income level, gender, race or sexual orientation. JFS also provides services in Metairie, Uptown and on the North Shore, which makes it very convenient for all members of the local community, no matter where they live, to take part.

“I’m very proud to be part of any organization with such a rich history and very proud of the work that we do in the community,” he adds. “We’re providing services that are needed in the community and we are very committed to investigating and becoming better informed for what the needs of the community are, so that we can make certain  whatever services that are needed in the community and that we  offer are relevant.”

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