Ilene Arroyo of The New Jewish Home honored with McNight’s Women of Distinction award

headshot of Ilene Arroyo
Bronxite Ilene Arroyo won a national award for her work in human resources for senior care.
Photo courtesy Berlin Rosen

Ilene Arroyo, a lifelong Bronxite who worked her way up in the human resources department at The New Jewish Home, was honored as a Women of Distinction by McNight’s Long-Term Care News.

Arroyo is one of 16 nursing, senior living and home care professionals across the country recognized as a “Veteran VIP” as part of the Women of Distinction awards. The category honors women with more than 15 years of experience.

Arroyo has worked as the senior director of human resources at The New Jewish Home since 2014, but she started at the nonprofit senior health care system in 1992 in its Bronx division. She worked her way up through the human resources (HR) department, landing associate director and director roles before her current role. She now oversees benefits and compensations for the whole system, along with all other HR functions for the Manhattan nursing home, such as recruitment, employee relations and labor relations. 

Before joining The New Jewish Home, which was renamed from Jewish Home Life Care, and before that, Jewish Home for the Aged, she worked at Mt. Sinai for 7.5 years.

“I always was interested in working with people, helping people, not just pushing papers,” she said. “And I sort of fell into human resources.”

With the exception of one year, she has lived in the Bronx since she was 4 years old, spending the past 31 years in the Pelham Parkway section of the borough, and the 13 years prior to that in the Fordham area.

Arroyo’s first experience in adult care was at an adult daycare center when she was 17 years old. She saw seniors playing volleyball and was taken away by how much energy they had. Though seniors who don’t have the same energy can still live fulfilling lives in other ways, she noted.

“I liked the idea of working with elder adults,” she said. “I feel like they’re a special group of people. They have a lot to offer. They have a lot of knowledge and education and just because they can’t care for themselves in their own homes, they should not be forgotten about. And unfortunately, that happens.”

While Arroyo doesn’t usually work directly with the nursing home residents, she works as an administrator on duty on weekends — on a rotation basis — where she sees residents more often. Similarly, amid COVID-19 pandemic regulations, she surveilled units daily.

“You see a lot in that role,” she said. “Although I was not clinical, I was able to see other things and be able to do more for the staff so that they can do their job and care for the elderly.”

In general, Arroyo’s goal is to make sure staff can do their jobs and have the necessary skills to care for elders in the facility, she said. She makes sure staff have what they need, that everyone knows the rules, and mediates when necessary.

Out of 1,257 employees in the system, 784 are union members, belonging to 1199 Service Employees International Union, New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), the Federation of Nurses/UFT or District Council 37.

“There are challenges; money is always an issue,” Arroyo said of negotiating with various unions. “But we really work hard to be fair to all of the employees and to the facility.”

During the pandemic, the biggest challenge was maintaining staffing and having staff feel supported, Arroyo said. The New Jewish Home had patients with COVID-19, so staff members were afraid, and also getting sick, so others were asked to pick up extra shifts. HR and administration met with union delegates weekly as regulations changed.

In her role, Arroyo said she negotiated with NYSNA by the end of 2022, before any other hospital or organization in the city on the same timeline — coming to an agreement before a nurses strike erupted at city hospitals in January.

She said she was “very surprised, embarrassed and excited” when she learned she won the honor.

“I’m very honored, I’m very excited,” she said. “I did not expect it at all, but I’m very passionate about human resources and working with the staff and the elderly, and doing what I can for everybody.”

Arroyo and the other honorees will be celebrated at a gala in Chicago in May.

The New Jewish Home has rehabilitation and recovery centers and nursing homes in Manhattan and Westchester, as well as the University Avenue Assisted Living Program and the Kittay Senior Apartments in the Bronx. There is also an adult daycare center in Manhattan. While the system was first founded in 1848 to serve New York’s Jewish population, it serves people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes