Dr. Teresa Chopoorian: McKnight’s Women of Distinction Award winner

Published in the Pawtucket Times on February 22, 2021

After reviewing hundreds of submitted entries, an independent panel, composed of two dozen judges, selected 19 women, including Dr. Teresa J. Chopoorian, to be inducted into the McKnight’s Women of Distinction Hall of Honor as part of the program’s third annual class. 

Dr. Chopoorian serves as Vice President and Administrator of the Central Falls, RI-based Mansion Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and is a former Professor of Nursing and Chairs the City of Pawtucket Cancer Control Task Force.     

According to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News the Hall of Honor recognizes executive-level professionals who have made a significant impact in the skilled nursing or senior living industries.  Of the sixty women who have been inducted into the Distinction Hall of Honor since its inception in 2019, Dr. Chopoorian is the only Rhode Islander to receive this prestigious recognition. 

Considered the hallmark of recognition for women leaders in the seniors’ care and living industries, McKnight’s Women of Distinction honors are given in three categories: Rising Stars, Veteran VIPs, and the Hall of Honor. A Lifetime Achievement Award winner will also be announced in March.  The annual awards program is administered jointly by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Senior Living. The winners will be recognized in editions of the McKnight’s Daily Update and McKnight’s Daily Briefing newsletters.

All of this year’s honorees, working in the health care industry, will be celebrated during a May 18th virtual awards event.  The ceremony will take place the evening followed by a special McKnight’s educational forum for all professionals in the long-term care and senior living industries the next morning. 

The Life and Times of Dr. Chopoorian

Dr. Chopoorian was hired as an Instructor at Boston University School of Nursing after completing her master’s degree at this university in 1964.  She was promoted to Assistant Professor and recognized as Teacher of the Year in 1968.  

She left Boston University in 1970 to accept a professorship at Boston College to co-direct a Macy Foundation graduate program with Harvard Medical School, a novel initiative to prepare Clinical Nurse Specialists. The program was among the first graduate nursing curriculum in the country and served as a critical role model for forthcoming nurse practitioner programs. 

In 1974, Dr. Chopoorian joined the faculty of Boston State College Department of Nursing and began doctoral studies at Boston University in 1978.  Upon completion of her doctorate in 1982, she accepted a professorship at Northeastern University School of Nursing where she continued to teach and participate in the development of nursing practice.

Coming Back Home to Long Term Care

Dr. Chopoorian joined the Mansion after a 22-year career as a nursing educator.  Her career parallels the transformation of nursing home care as it has undergone generational change.  As nursing homes evolved from custodial care to a case mix of higher morbidities and a greater need to deal with an increasing population of younger residents and residents with mental illnesses, Dr Chopoorian’s career paralleled this transformation in unique ways.

Starting as a teenager working in her family’s business, a 76-bed nursing home on the border of Central Falls and Pawtucket, mill towns emerging from the flight of the textile industry, she was inspired to become a nurse.  She then chose the rigor of enrolling at Classical High School Providence, which laid a strong foundation of scholarship that would serve her well.   More importantly, this earliest choice illustrated a characteristic of always taking on the greater challenge.  

In 1986, Dr. Chopoorian joined the Mansion staff at a time of family crisis.  Her father was retiring as administrator soon after the passing of her mother. At a crossroad of whether to continue the development of a fruitful academic career or apply her clinical knowledge and nursing skills to a family business, she made the critical choice of leading the family’s nursing facility while caring for her father. A daunting choice on every level, leaving the security of an academic career for a business whose nature and regulatory landscape were dramatically different than two decades earlier when she helped her father as a nursing aide.   

Dr. Chopoorian’s family crisis thrust her into the role of Administrator; she led the Mansion as a quality provider of skilled care and rehabilitation services, consistently a 4 and 5-star rated facility.  In 2010, she was recognized as the first recipient of the Nightingale Nurse of the Year Award by the Rhode Island State Nurses Association, as a nurse in the role of nursing home administrator.

Dr. Chopoorian also became active in the greater community and participated in boards such as the Pawtucket YMCA and Samaritans of Rhode Island. But closest to her heart, she has a lifelong commitment to cancer prevention, and has become one of the strongest local voices for cancer prevention in her community.  As chair of the Cancer Control Task Force supported by the City of Pawtucket Mayor’s office, she instituted programs such as a Poetry Slam that has young local school students writing poems competitively on the theme of smoking cessation or prevention.

A Rising Star in the Nursing Profession 

After graduation from the College of Nursing at the University of Rhode Island in 1962, she started as a Staff Nurse at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston. Again, rising to the greater challenge, she enrolled in the Nursing Master’s program at Boston University.  It launched a career that would keep her in the mainstream of nursing education and growth, up to the present day to bring her full cycle to administering a family business and the challenges of passing it on to a third generation.

Dr. Chopoorian shared her pioneering work on education for nursing practice through her teaching, publishing and consulting as these programs became established. She was recognized for her work by the Massachusetts Nurses Association in 1974 – “Recognition of a Nurse Influencing the Directions of Professional Nursing Practice”. 

Perhaps the most prestigious recognition was her selection as the 9th recipient of the International Council of Nursing (ICN) Fellowship in 1978, the first US candidate to be selected from among its 44 member countries.

Among Dr. Chopoorian’s publications, one of special note is her article, “Reconceptualizing the Environment”, which called attention to the social, cultural, political and economic environmental factors that impact the practice of nursing. Published in 1986, it is still heavily cited by scholars in the field and pertinent to the dialog of nursing practice today.

She was appointed Fellow in the National Academy of Practice, Nursing in 1987.

Meeting the Challenges of COVID-19

Dr. Chopoorian is now practicing what she has preached over the years, applying her knowledge and skills to the practical matters of administering a skilled nursing care facility, and doing it in a manner that has earned her the recognition of her peers as Nightingale Nurse of the Year.

Early in March 2020 as it became clear that nursing homes were ground zero in an epic battle; she consulted with her Medical and Nursing Director and decided to close admission of anyone into the facility who was not already in the facility until October of 2020, when community spread overcame the facility staff’s most resolute of defenses. The Mansion is one of only three facilities in Rhode Island with this record in the midst of what was designated as the state’s hot zone. The residents and staff who tested positive have since quickly passed quarantine with no deaths or illnesses. A major practice achievement as we now head into a time of protection with the Pfizer, Moderna, and other versions of the COVID-19 vaccine, and are hopefully home free.

Reflecting on a Loved One’s Life Time of Achievements

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 29, 2019

A few weeks ago, my sister Nancy called to give me the bad news that my brother-in-law, Justin Aurbach, was diagnosed with an aggressive and deadly cancer known as glioblastoma, or more commonly referred to as GBM. This 77 year old Dallas-based endodontist who I knew as relatively healthy, a believer in vitamins and physically active most of his adult life, was now house-bound receiving 24 hour a day care by home health caregivers, along with his daughters Stephanie and Allison, and his partner Ruth who were now all part of a revolving schedule of care.

I booked a quick trip to Dallas to sit with him and show my support and concern. It had been a few years since I had been there and I wondered what the conversation might entail, knowing that our 53-year old relationship could cover a lot of ground. Justin and my sister were always collectors of art, and I soon found myself sitting at a kitchen table, surrounded by colorfully carved images of watermelons, where he and I reminisced as the time flew by.

Justin reminded me that we first met in 1967 when he came to pick-up my older sister Mickie, taking her to dine at Campisi’s Restaurant, a local pizza hangout. Even though it took place over five decades ago, he clearly remembered first meeting my mother as she greeted him from the couch, sitting with her thick soled shoes propped up on the ottoman, smoking a cigarette and wearing her trademark leopard print blouse. He recalls her holding Tony, the family’s three-legged Toy Poodle.

A year later, Mickie and Justin would recruit my twin brother, Jim and me to be ushers at their wedding in 1968. Through the ebb and flow of their life together, from raising children, grandchildren and building a successful dental practice, he reflected on their 41 year marriage, noting ‘how it flew by’ before Mickie passed in 2008.

Justin reminded me of the sage advice he gave me before I entered my freshman year at the University of Oklahoma. “Drink in moderation and put studies before chugging pitchers of beer,” he said. It is funny the things you tend to remember, I thought.

As our conversation became more focused on his health, Justin thought that the symptoms of the tumor might first have appeared over five years ago, when he became dizzy while taking a bike ride. Last August, the symptoms returned while riding again, and a Cat Scan would ultimately reveal his tumor.

Turning 60

In 2003, I had the opportunity to interview Justin about turning age 60 for my weekly senior commentary in the Pawtucket Times. He shared the following thoughts about being at the peak of his career professionally, while only five years shy of reaching retirement age.

In my commentary, Justin said, “It’s great [moving into your 60s], however, far too much [cultural] negativity has been directed at this chronological age.”

At that time, my brother-in-law was in relatively good physical shape. While he would acknowledge that he could not run a four-minute mile, he joked that he never could anyway. As he approached his sixth decade, he admitted that he played a little golf like many of his friends, walked and jogged, and even took time to lift weights.

Dr. Justin E. Aurbach, DDS, had accomplished much in his career by the age of 60. As the first endodontist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he was the first in the region to perform endodontic microsurgery, when at that time there were only 78 endodontists in the nation performing such surgery. He is past president of the DFW Endodontic Society, The Southwest Society of Endodontics, and the Dallas County Dental Society. He served as general chairman of the Southwest Dental Conference.

Justin believed strongly that he would still be ‘at the top of his professional game, improving with age’, as he proudly boasted. During my interview with him, he said, “not only am I technically better, but my years of life experience have made me wiser in respect to knowing what can and cannot be done in my life.”

The endodontist attributed much of his success to his wife, children and the many supportive family and friends that were part of his large extended family.

By age 60, his philosophy of looking at the “glass half-full rather than half empty” allowed him to cope with life’s difficulties. This life stage was also a time of excitement and learning for him, while he glided into the years he referred to as “best time of your life.”

Getting to the Big “70”

Ten years later, we would speak again about his approaching the age 70 milestone. He reflected on how so much time had passed, which he noted flew by in “the blink of an eye.” During my 2013 interview with him published in my weekly commentary in this paper, he told me that he would “certainly keep forging ahead at a break-neck pace,” promising that new goals would replace those that were accomplished.

He recalled having attended dozens of funerals, said final goodbyes to his wife, father, father-in-law, mother-in-law, along with many close friends and colleagues. Justin noted that “reading the Dallas Morning News obituary page and constantly attending funerals made him aware of the need to accomplish his set goals with the limited time he had left -” but life goes on,” Justin told me. A year after his wife’s death in 2008, the aging widower again found love and began to date Ruth.

Looking ahead into his 70’s, Justin had no plans to retire. Though financially secure, he aspired to maintain a very full practice until his eighty-fifth birthday. He found added fulfillment teaching endodontic residents at Texas AM Baylor School of Dentistry, a job that he hoped would continue into his 70s, while also staying active in the medical group.

Justin has been an avid bike rider for over 30 years, and despite being 70, he would continue to sneak in a ride when possible, even with his busy schedule. He enjoyed the City of Dallas’s fine restaurants, loved to cook for family and friends, and looked forward to a good play or chamber music performance from time to time. His mantra may well be “Live your life to the fullest, don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.”

Looking Ahead

Justin says, since the diagnosis of his terminal illness, his house has been flooded with family, friends, referring doctors and even former dental students. “I have made a lot of friends and accept that I have impacted people in a very positive way,” he said, as he cites as an upside of his illness.

As we concluded our talk, he says, “Don’t wait to do things. You never know what the future has in store for you,” adding that he learned this lesson from Ruth.
“Simple things in life are your best bet to living a good life,” Justin tells me, stressing that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to enjoy your life.”

Justin acknowledges that he may live another two to six months with the GBM tumor, but remains optimistic, for there are those who have lived for another 14 years. In his remaining time, he hopes to maintain a “quality of life” that allows him to continue to attend musicals and plays, or perhaps even take short trips.

Final Thoughts

As you reach your 60s and into your 70s, research tells us that exercise, eating a healthy diet, developing a strong social network of family and friends, and continuing to learn and seek out new knowledge all become important in enhancing the quality of your life and increasing your longevity in your later years. However, in our twilight years life can become of full of tough challenges and we may face difficult times.

Ultimately, like Justin, reflecting on personal and professional accomplishments can give you the inner resources necessary to meet the challenges in the final stages of your life.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

Pawtucket City Hall to Host Major Exhibit of Renown 90-Year-Old Sculptor

Published in the Woonsocket Call on September 16, 2019

The City of Pawtucket’s Arts and Culture Commission hosts a major exhibit of the work of 90-year-old internationally acclaimed Artist, Mihail Simeonov, running from September 19-December 31, 2019. An opening reception to meet Mihai will be held at Pawtucket City Hall, Thursday, September 19, 2019, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., 137 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI 02860.

Home to a thriving arts community, the City of Pawtucket is delighted to present this first-time major exhibition by an internationally-acclaimed sculptor and resident, says Mayor Donald R. Grebien. “As a city committed to art, design and innovation, we are delighted to be able to share the work of such an important artist. Bridging cultures, aesthetic worlds and ideas, Mihail’s work is both visually stunning and deeply rooted in history. He is remarkable for his continued innovation and relevance in contemporary art,” says the Mayor.

“As we celebrate the arts in the City of Pawtucket throughout September, we are honored to have Pawtucket-resident Mihail showcase his visionary artwork at a major exhibit in the City Hall Art Gallery”, states Miram Plitt, Chair of the City’s Arts and Culture Commission. “We invite anyone with an interest in art and those who rally to protect the world’s wild life to attend our opening reception to celebrate the life-time creativity and vision of Mihail whose extraordinary works of art can be seen at the United Nations,” says Plitt.

Cast the Sleeping Elephant

Although the 90-year-old Pawtucket resident has practicing his craft for over 75 years, with major public monuments in Bulgaria and Tunisia, he is best known for his life-size bull elephant bronze sculpture at the United Nations (UN).

In 1980, after several years of planning and work on a breakthrough idea, Mihail travelled to Kenya where, with the help of the country’s Ministry of Wildlife, he took a cast of a live bull elephant bull in the wild. The elephant survived the 72-minute process completely unharmed. From that live cast, Mihail created the Cast the Sleeping Elephant bronze, an over-life size sculpture. The sculpture was officially inaugurated by Secretary General Kofi Annan and installed at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York City in 1998, where it continues to serve as a symbol of man’s dedication to preserving all living creatures.

Mihail says his bronze elephant is a symbol of the importance to protect all wildlife and it is aptly placed at the United Nations, the home of all nations.

The Travels of Mihail

Mihail was born in Bulgaria in 1929, where for seven years he studied philosophy and majored in monumental sculpture at the academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. When one of his commissioned monuments provoked the wrath of Bulgaria’s communist government, Mihail went into exile in Tunisia. In Tunis, enchanted by an exuberance of Mediterranean colors and intense light, the artist embarked on a new aesthetic journey.

After several in Tunis, where many of his large-scale monuments continue to stand, Mihail and his wife, Lilda, emigrated to the United States in the early 1970’s, settling in a loft in New York City. Mihail was granted entry because of his status as an “exceptional artist.”

For over 10 years, Mihail also worked out of a boathouse art studio in Lloyd Harbor, where he was an artist in residence at Friends College. Later relocating to Millbrook, New York and then to Orient, Long Island. Mihail and Lida raised their daughter, Iana, a filmmaker who now lives in San Francisco with her cinematographer husband.

Around 2003, Mihail was looking for a new home and location for his art studio. An article in the Travel Section of the New York Times, picked up at random in an empty train car that featured the historic Pawtucket mills prompted him to write a letter to Mayor James E. Doyle. Mihail thought he might like to move there. Three days after writing this letter he was contacted by Herb Weiss, the City’s Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer. Two years later he would become a Pawtucket resident with Lida, living in one of the city’s mills.

Extraordinary Impact on Contemporary Art

According to Iana Simeonov, Mihail’s daughter and a former art dealer and critic, the Pawtucket exhibition showcases several distinct but related bodies of Mihail’s work in a range of media, including bronze, painting and drawing. The works illustrate how the 90-year-old artist continues to evolve artistically, elaborating on themes which have compelled and fascinated him since the 1960’s.

“Mihail’s 75 years as artist have not only been prolific, but extraordinary in terms of their contribution to the history and vitality of contemporary art,” adds Simeonov, “Mihail’s work has been the subject of dozens of solo exhibitions from New York to Chicago, Stockholm, Basel, Geneva to Milan.

“Mihail’s work is held in over 100 private and museum collections around the world, and his large-scale public monuments continue to stand in public squares and prominent spaces in the US, Europe, and Africa. His artistic legacy and personal story are uniquely compelling and, at age 90 he continues to innovate with materials and is as freshly obsessed with making art as the day he entered the academy,” she adds.

Mihail has not looked back since he relocated to his Pawtucket mill. “I like Pawtucket for its history and old charm and it’s only minutes away from Providence,” he says, noting that his artwork now reflects the industrial character of the City.

Mihail acknowledges that he has never had an exhibit at City Hall. “It’s highly unusual,” he says, admitting that he feels “grateful and happy.”