Arlene Cornejo-Isidro: Calm in the face of crisis

Faith and fearless attitude: ‘I don’t panic.’  

By Danielle Vania Bonus

The world is vastly changing with this “new normal,” and the uncertainty of tomorrow leaves us apprehensive or maybe even depressed.  COVID-19 has emerged on an epic scale affecting our daily lives; our coping methods are now being tested.  Have many of us are prepared for such a time as this? 

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While her staff was absorbing the enormity of the pandemic, Mary Arlene M. Cornejo-Isidro, owner of three residential health care facilities and a mental health partial care program in New Jersey,  decided to calm some nerves.   She sent out a heartfelt email assuring her employees and residents that business would continue. 

“I don’t panic, and it’s because of grace that I don’t panic. But, I don’t want my staff panicking if something should happen to me. Other than that, I’m ready,” she said in an interview with The FilAm.

She grew up in the Philippines and attend Catholic schools, like St. Scholastica’s College and Assumption College. Convictions from her humble beginnings would never allow for money to be at a forefront, and as long as her parents are alive, she would always find a way to give them excellent care.

It was her parents, Engr. Artemio Cornejo and Aida Cornejo, that inspired her to enter the field of healthcare. “I wanted to be able to take care of them, back when they were younger. But now, they’re much much older,” said Arlene who is the youngest of five children. “It’s my way of honoring them. I owe it all to them.”

Just after she and her parents arrived in New Jersey, Arlene set off to buy a new home for her family.  She entrusted her loan officer to handle the financial matters diligently throughout the whole purchasing process.  Before escrow could close, she was required to pay up to $20,000 that was never discussed.  Since then, she could never shake off the feeling of being deluded just to make a sale.  She vowed to never go about life handling others as carelessly as that loan officer did to her. “I always want my moral compass pointed in the right direction,” she said.

Arlene with her managers and staff at Monmouth Partial Care (below). ‘Business will continue.’

Shortly after the sale of her home, she found a career as a mortgage broker, a good fit for a marketing major.  Being the number one salesperson six years in a row, she became responsible for training the whole team.  There was no secret to her methods.  It was “plain ol’ honesty” and her can-do disposition.  

Even with her success as a mortgage broker, Arlene needed a venture of her own that would allow her to care for her parents, so, she studied up on group homes.  After being in the U.S. for only five years, she extended her assistance to  individuals suffering from mental illness and opened her first residential health care facility which provided personal care to its residents, such as food, shelter, supervised health care, and related services.  At one point, Arlene owned 90 percent of the partial care homes in Monmouth County, New Jersey and decided to extend her operations by providing mental health treatment,  not only to the residents of the facilities but also the community. 

In 2012 she started a psychiatric day treatment program, known in New Jersey as “partial care,” which employs a multidisciplinary, multilingual staff in the field of psychiatry, psychology and social work and life skills training. Today, the program provides five hours of mental health treatment a day for a week and caters to individuals with chronic conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.  The services consist of psychiatric evaluations, medication monitoring, substance abuse counseling, and education in a supportive setting. Her facilities are licensed by the state, and she continuously receives referrals from social workers.  

With her two sons Rafa (left) and Anton, who are both in college.

She is taking more of a back-seat role in her businesses with the addition of a new Chief Executive and Operating Officer.  Still, she handles the interview, admissions and discharge processes herself.  She considers every one of her 100-plus residents, more than 125 clients, and 65 employees as family.

Despite the milestones and her contributions to the indigent and mentally ill community, there are no limitations to her vision. She continues to build from the fundamental lessons and challenges and understands what is necessary in the process of pursuing something bigger.  She plans on building a community of group homes each focusing on different levels of care.

A small town filled with the necessary amenities that make living easier for her residents would be Arlene’s dream, and she’s not far from attaining it.  She stays proactive about the what-ifs with contingency plans in place.  If the worst-case scenario unexpectedly unfolds, she is prepared. 

“I think it’s because of my faith,” she said. “I have so much faith. And we’re Filipino. We are resilient!” 

Arlene’s legacy will pass on to her two boys who are now in college.  Elder son Rafa is a sophomore at Fordham University studying Global Business. His brother Anton will be attending Boston College as an Economics major this year.   She still finds herself having trouble with the thought of them being far from home, but is proud to have raised well-mannered gentlemen.

Her fearless attitude, ability to execute, and confidence have been reassuring. 

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© The FilAm 2020

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