Im Ja P. Choi

Im Ja P. Choi , Penn Asian Senior Services
Founder and Executive Director
Penn Asian Senior Services
Purpose Prize Fellow 2011

Nine years ago, Im Ja P. Choi faced the most difficult decision of her life: whether to put her mother – who only spoke Korean and weighed just 62 pounds after stomach cancer surgeries – in a nursing home. Choi was thrilled to discover that her mother was eligible for home health care covered by Medicaid.

But soon another hurdle emerged: Not a single agency in the Philadelphia area employed Korean-speaking aides. It took Choi seven months to find someone.

The emotionally and financially draining situation motivated Choi to create Penn Asian Senior Services, the first and largest agency in Pennsylvania to provide Asian seniors with home health care aides who speak their language and understand their culture.

Today the agency serves 236 low-income seniors and disabled adults in seven languages: Cambodian, Cantonese, English, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin and Vietnamese. The organization also employs more than 240 multilingual home health aides at a wage that’s higher than the industry average. Next, Choi plans to provide services for the Asian Indian community and increase the organization’s work with developmentally challenged adults.

Choi’s mother passed away in October 2010, eight years after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. Her long survival proves to Choi that cultural sensitivity, a common language and deep compassion are key to comprehensive, dignified care for the elderly.

“My mother is the one who inspired me to do this,” Choi says. “Even though she was sick, she would tell me to go ahead and do whatever you need to. Without her I would not be here today.”