Suzanne M. Gillespie, M.D.

New geriatrician at Jewish Senior Life wants to focus on systems and processes designed to meet the needs of older adults; she recalls meeting at the White House to discuss COVID-19 vaccination policies

By Chris Motola

Q: You’re bringing an administrative background in geriatric medicine to Jewish Senior Life.

A: I am a geriatrician with a lifelong interest in acute and long-term care of older adults and those with chronic medical conditions. I was raised in the Southern Tier; I grew up in Horseheads. I went to Cornell where I started my medical career after majoring in nutritional science. I worked as a dietitian after that. I decided to return to school to become a physician at the University of Virginia. Then I came to Rochester for my residency in internal medicine. I caught the Rochester bug and stayed here for my fellowship in geriatric medicine and training in palliative medicine. So I spent a lot of my career in Rochester taking care of individuals in post-acute and long-term care settings. I am a certified medical director as you mentioned, so I’ve had in interest in processes and how they happen in nursing facilities and how we ensure good policies and procedures to take care of the folks who are here. And I’ve done that in a variety of settings. Immediately prior to coming to Jewish Senior Life, I was overseeing the medical aspects of geriatric care at the VA Finger Lakes Health System.

Q: What are some of the challenges you see in geriatrics in the current climate?

A: I think we’re in an interesting time when it comes to thinking about how to take care of elderly adults. One of the biggest challenges is how to create systems and processes that are friendly and designed to meet the care needs of older adults. There are a variety of initiatives that have been put into place nationally and here at Jewish Senior Life to try to think about how to provide care that’s centered on the person, what their goals and values are, and to provide them the most value for their care. Being attentive to things like the medications that they’re on. Being attentive to processes and procedures that will help improve functional performance. So I think allowing the systems we have in place target those goals, and making sure we have the right sources of insurance and resources to support that type of care are the biggest challenges that we have right now.

Q: Overall do you find there are different challenges with the baby boomer generation than with older generations?

A: I think we’ve been thinking a lot about how to integrate technology into care and how to create living spaces that are designed to promote the best quality of life. I think our aging generation requires us to do that even better by, for example, setting up age-friendly systems to use technology and telemedicine to improve access to providers. I think similarly, some of the initiatives that have been put in place to think about the whole person are especially important for long-term care. How do we create engaging environments for our community, their families, their friends, while also allowing for advanced medical care for things that are very complex like wound care and intravenous therapies. And I think it’s our current and future generations that are really driving this. So we have to think about both the social aspects of care and highly complex medical care.

Q: Can you give me an example of a program that does this?

A: At Jewish Senior Life I think that would be designs they applied to their long-term care settings, building cottages that are home-like, where older adults are able to live and share in a space where they have private residences but also a lot of opportunities for social interaction. And they can still receive a high level of medical care when appropriate for complex needs. It challenges the traditional perception of what a nursing home looks like in an institutional setting. It’s friendly and welcoming while still being able to deliver very complex care.

Q: What were some of the lessons learned during the pandemic in terms of balancing the physical safety of older adults with their social and psychological needs?

A: So the organization that is the professional home for medical providers in long-term care is AMDA [The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care]. And I had the great privilege of working as AMDA president over the past year. So thinking about the pandemic and the impact it’s had on this care space are near and dear to me. I think we are at an interesting time with respect to the pandemic. It illuminated many opportunities for us to improve the care of older adults. I had the opportunity to visit the White House and sit with other professional society leaders and discuss how to improve vaccination rates and treatment rates for older adults who had COVID-19. There’s a lot of information and opinions going out, so having a relationship between a good medical provider and an individual trying to make decisions is very important. Another thing that was illuminated was resource availability. Do we have the right experts in the building? Do we have the processes in place to keep our elders safe but also engaged? I think we learned a lot through that time and are now looking at how to leverage that information.

Q: What kind of impact do you want to have at Jewish Senior Life administratively?

A: I’m very excited to be part of the team at Jewish Senior Life. I think part of the appeal for me was the strength and quality of the medical staff and the interest in taking care of complex individuals, and taking a critical role in the care of our Rochester community. I worked with the staff in a lot of different capacities over the years, so I look forward to contributing to the team and working on the continuum of older adults in our community in a way that improves functioning and quality of care. I’m excited to be a part of not only the processes that are in place but also looking to implement changes in the space when needed.


Name: Suzanne M. Gillespie, M.D.

Position: Attending physician and associate medical director at Jewish Senior Life

Hometown: Horseheads

Education: Medical degree from University of Virginia (2001), fellowship in geriatric medicine at URMC (204-2005), residency in internal medicine at URMC (2004-2005), fellowship in geriatrics medicine at Monroe Community Hospital (2005-2006)

Highlight: Educator of the Year (2013), URMC

Affiliations: University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Organizations: The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care (AMDA); The Geriatric Society; American College of Physicians

Family: Two daughters (16 and 18)

Hobbies: Baking; spinning classes