The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

The Boards of Directors for Front Porch and Covia, two leading California-based not-for-profit senior living and affordable housing providers, voted on June 1 to affiliate.

The new affiliation will create one of the nation’s top not-for-profit organizations providing senior living, affordable housing and community services for more than 10,000 people. The combined organization will ensure long-term stability, achieve economic benefits, manage costs, and scale and access resources across 54 communities.

“Our affiliation with Front Porch creates a strong organization going forward that will support the changing needs of our residents,” said Vincent Forte, Chairman of the Covia Communities Board of Directors.

“Aligning our leadership, experience and expertise creates an opportunity to better meet the evolving expectations of a growing population of older adults,” said Oliver Wesson, Chairman of the Front Porch Board of Directors.

Covia CEO and President Kevin Gerber and Front Porch CEO John Woodward will remain in their positions during the transition. The boards agreed to retain the Front Porch name initially and appoint John Woodward as CEO of the combined entity. Kevin Gerber will leave upon the close of the affiliation, expected in early 2021.

“Combining with Covia strengthens our long-held goal of building strong and engaging communities, connecting people with the services and relationships they need to thrive,” Woodward said. “Under Kevin’s leadership, Covia has raised the bar for our industry and is the ideal partner to provide even greater service to all of our communities.”

“Our collective geographic footprints and service offerings will maximize Front Porch’s capacity to grow and diversify our reach and impact,” Gerber said. “I’m confident that under John’s guidance our affiliation will be a success.” 

The affiliation is subject to the receipt of regulatory approvals and is expected to close in early 2021. Front Porch and Covia will continue to operate their organizations and their respective communities separately until the affiliation is approved.

For more information, please visit our webpage at covia.org/affiliation

Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators (RSCs) help residents at affordable communities throughout California connect to vital services – work that is more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis.

“RSCs have shown up to work each day from the start of this pandemic and have adapted to providing services to our most vulnerable population while maintaining strict physical distancing,” says Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services. 

As programs and normal services have stalled, the continued work of RSCs ensure that older adults throughout the state can continue to receive the help and care that they need. Under normal circumstances, RSCs coordinate a wide variety of services, ranging from offering social and cultural programs within their communities to helping residents access benefit programs and medical care. During the shelter in place order, RSCs have continued connecting residents to essential services, which now includes getting access to food deliveries, masks, and hand sanitizer.

At Redwood Shores in Vallejo, RSC Jennifer Wright is working with Panera Bread to coordinate donations of unsold fresh food. “I am happy to report that with each donation we have been able to feed all of the residents,” Wright says.  

Wright also worked with the city to secure donations of laundry soap, hand soap, and canned goods. “I also got a donation of 5.5 gallon liquid hand sanitizer when hand sanitizer was sparse,” she says. “But I can’t take the credit for it all as my site has really come together as a community. We have residents who go to church together, that cook up to 20 hot meals each Saturday giving it to residents. Another resident made and donated 100 cloth masks for staff and residents!”

Esther Koc, RSC for Covia’s Presidio Gate Apartment in San Francisco, has solicited donations for face coverings for staff as well as residents. “All essential, onsite staff have been supplied with reusable face coverings since April.  All PGA residents were also supplied as of early May.” Esther is now working on securing reusable face coverings for residents at two other communities. “We cannot make people wear them but providing them and exhausting all our options allows us to say we did all we could.” 

There’s a lot of education that goes along with keeping people safe and healthy. “I find there continues to be confusion with residents about wearing masks when exiting their units,” says Koc. “Many accuse onsite staff of being infected due to us wearing them. But I continue to educate that protecting self also protects others.  We all need to do our part to keep our communities safe and well.”

RSCs provide residents with easy ways to prioritize their overall wellness as they shelter in place.  “Residents are following the shelter-in-place guidelines well, but as the time passes by, they were noticeably becoming weaker due to lack of exercise,” says Sara Choi, RSC at Vista Towers in Los Angeles.  “We have been following up with the residents to encourage them to at least walk in the hallway since Vista Tower has no garden or open space for residents to walk safely.  We provided them resources of YouTube senior exercise links and encouraged them to do some exercises using YouTube.  We also printed out simple exercises for those who do not have a smart phone or any kind of device.”

Wellness includes staying socially connected, which is an important part of the RSCs’ role as people are unable to gather in groups. Smith notes that ending social isolation is the #1 goal of resident service coordinators, and staying physically distant is hard for the RSCs as well as the residents. “RSCs have gotten creative though. Every resident at every site is reached out to once a week. We miss our residents but do what we must to protect them.”

Choi says, “We have been periodically contacting residents via phone to check in on them to make sure they have everything they need and socialize with them so that they won’t feel lonely and isolated. Since they know us already and have a trusted relationship built up, they were feeling more comfortable talking to us.”  

“During the shelter in place, I have gotten the chance to get closer to my residents by calling them weekly,” says Wright. “Redwood Shores has really shown me that even while social distancing, we can still come together as a community, just six feet apart.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, Covia is dedicated to supporting team members as they provide essential care throughout our communities. Part of this support is the ‘Essential Support’ program, which was put into effect on April 29th. This program includes financial support to help with unexpected costs, time off, choice of a fun “family time” membership, and merit increases.

As Covia CEO Kevin Gerber noted in a letter to employees with the announcement of the program, “We are so proud of the work our employees have been doing under difficult circumstances to make sure that our residents are safe and well cared for. The Essential Support program offers more support to all of our employees who are providing essential services for life and safety.”

The Essential Support program began as a survey, when Covia leadership reached out to employees throughout the organization to gauge how best to provide support during this time. Based on survey responses from over 600 employees and in the spirit of Covia’s Guiding Principles, the program provides assistance in areas where staff showed interest and need. These benefits fall into different categories including merit increases, help with expenses, time off, paid leave, and protective equipment.  

The Essential Support Program

As part of the Essential Support program, beginning in May, all employees at Covia communities who joined Covia before January 2020 will receive a merit increase. This is paired with up to $500 to go toward essential expenses such as groceries and childcare.

On top of monetary benefits, the program also includes the ability to earn up to 1 floating holiday per month to use as needed and a commitment that employees will not lose wages due to COVID-19. If a Covia employee contracts COVID-19 or is waiting on test results, the organization will ensure that team members are properly compensated. This includes coordinating with State Disability Insurance (SDI) benefits and ensuring staff have enough paid time off or paid sick leave for wages not covered by SDI.

In addition to the personal protective equipment (PPE) that is in use at the communities, Covia is also supplying cloth masks to employees that they can take home to their families. The Essential Support program also offers a benefit employees can share with their family. They can choose between a Disney+ membership, a Netflix membership, an Amazon Prime membership, or a Costco Goldstar membership, which can be utilized now for shopping or entertainment, or a Fandango Movie Card that can be used after the crisis is over.

“In creating this program, we started with a simple goal – support our team members holistically,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of HR. “We understood the financial strain COVID-19 had caused and were committed to providing support to help ease the financial burden – and, we wanted to do more. We wanted to provide the gift of time to rest and recharge.  Time to share with their children, spouses, and loved ones – even if it was something as simple as watching movies on Netflix, enjoying the classics on Disney +, or shopping on Amazon for some home essentials. Our team members are more than a financial transaction, they are what make Covia a unique place to work.”

Thank you to all Covia employees who are ensuring residents are receiving the best care during this difficult time. Covia employees who are interested in learning more about the Essential Support program, please reach out to your HR representative. And if you are interested in joining the Covia team, please visit our careers site!

Cynthia Shelby worked for 15 years as a hospital nurse – including emergency rooms, ICUs, and medical/surgery – before she took a position as an Assistant Director of Nursing in a skilled nursing community in Ohio. As a hospital nurse, Shelby notes “You become a very good clinician and you have good diagnostic skills and you’re real quick on your feet.”

But skilled nursing is a different world. She adds, “Nobody just jumps into this field. It takes experience. You have to learn all the regulations and all the little pieces of the puzzle that have to get put together before someone can go home.”

For the past three years, Shelby has worked for Covia as a Regional Quality and Care Nurse, providing support to six Skilled Nursing Facilities, from Pacific Grove to Santa Rosa. She, along with other members of the Clinical Team, offers guidance on the complexities of skilled nursing, including regulatory requirements, preparing for surveys from state regulators, billing questions, staffing concerns, training, and even filling in for key roles as needed.

Covia offers skilled nursing care within its four Life Plan Communities and at Canterbury Woods, a multi-level community.  Skilled nursing care “illustrates key parts of our mission,” says CEO Kevin Gerber. “It’s about the continuum of care and how the full team help residents transition through changes. Skilled nursing is also about the whole person – not just thinking about their physical needs, but all of their needs.”

Skilled nursing facilities “have always had a bad reputation and many joke it’s a death sentence,” says Connie Yuen, Healthcare Administrator at St. Paul’s Towers. “Yet, while skilled nursing care can be the final home for some who are frail and sick, it can also represent an environment to rest, strengthen and recuperate so one can continue living life and even return to a prior home. Working in skilled nursing care means that I have the privilege of providing great care to our residents during difficult times and uncertainty.”

May 10-16 is National Skilled Nursing Care Week. This year, it comes as skilled nursing facilities have become the face of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of the stereotype of the “nursing home.” Add in a few bad actors who skimp on care for profit, it is not surprising that the perception is negative. 

The negative perception exists in the nursing profession itself. “I too was a nurse for years in big medical centers,” says Mary Linde, Executive Director at St. Paul’s Towers. “People thought I was nuts when I moved to long term care. But the beauty of the skilled nursing home is the relationship with the residents. Because it’s a long term relationship, the care can really be tailored to that person’s personal preferences.”

Far from causing a reduction in the care and services residents receive, the COVID-19 crisis has only encouraged new ways of serving Covia’s skilled nursing residents. “I have been astonished and amazed in the most beautiful ways at watching the staff adapt to how they do care,” says Linde. “Staff who are normally behind the medication cart are now finding ways to do one-on-one activities with residents. Because if they weren’t doing them, they may have times of isolation. They are innovating and caring in new ways, and it’s amazing to witness.”

Covia has been able to get staff the supplies they need, ordering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks in larger quantities and distributing to the different communities as needed. Shelby, as part of Covia’s COVID-19 Task Force, reports daily on the needs and concerns of the skilled nursing teams, as well as the creative solutions they are implementing – such as turning sections of the health care center into isolation areas should a COVID-19 positive resident need to be kept separate from others. During weekly Infection Prevention Zoom calls, team members share best practices, discuss concerns, and answer questions to ensure that the Covia’s health care services are prepared for what might happen next.

“We’re making history,” says Shelby. “We’re doing things we’ve never done before. We’re introducing lots of new technologies, new ways of doing things, new ways of communicating to our families. Everyone as a team comes together for that.”

“I get to work with a team of intelligent, compassionate, kind individuals that provide and coordinate care to older adults with various healthcare needs,” says Yuen. “Together, we promote healthy aging, safety, well-being, quality of life, dignity and meaning if one becomes more frail towards the end of life.”

“What happens over time is love,” says Linde. “The care is driven by that relationship and there’s not another word for it. It is love that happens there.”

As we shelter in place, many people are taking up new creative projects, everything from knitting to baking or even learning a new musical instrument. Ruth’s Table is celebrating the power of creativity to lift our spirits and bring us together with the Enduring Inspiration: Creativity at Home initiative.

Ruth’s Table, part of Covia’s Community Services, is an arts nonprofit committed to increasing access to creative opportunities for older adults and adults with disabilities located at Bethany Center Senior Housing, a Covia Affordable Community. Through the Enduring Inspiration initiative Ruth’s Table is encouraging individuals sheltering in place to express themselves through creative projects with the help of creative care kits, support from teaching artists, and virtual classes. The culmination of the project is the Enduring Inspiration exhibition, a gallery show that will feature submitted art pieces created during this time.

Ruth’s Table Director Jessica McCracken notes, “Knowing that people were going to have to stay at home for a long duration of time, our first thought was around the risks associated with social isolation. Ruth’s Table programming has proven that the arts are an incredible tool for bringing people together. Enduring Inspiration was designed to bring a sense of hope and offer a way to process the magnitude of this experience.”

One way that this has manifested is with creative care kits, which include art-making activities (paired with supplies) that participants can use at home. Ruth’s Table has partnered with Covia Creative Spark to create Creative Spark worksheets, which are fun prompts intended to spark inspiration. Worksheets vary greatly, from turning a provided squiggle into a drawing to curating a personal art collection. An example of the worksheets can be found here.

Beyond the Creative Spark worksheet kits, Ruth’s Table has also partnered with Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSW), which empowers underprivileged youth through sewing and quilting, to create an intergenerational quilt. Ruth’s Table and SJSA have created quilt making kits that guide recipients through creating a quilt block that will be incorporated into a full quilt. This quilt will be on display as part of the Enduring Inspiration exhibit. If you are interested in creating a quilt block as part of the project, please reach out to contact@ruthstable.org.

Ruth’s Table is also supporting community creativity through individual or group phone calls as well as virtual classes. Group or individual support calls allow teaching artists to provide assistance and encouragement to those working on the creative care kits and Creative Spark worksheets. Virtual classes are also available for senior communities as a way to keep connected and engaged while we stay at home.

Set to take place later this year, the Enduring Inspiration exhibit is an invitation to us all to explore creative projects at home and share our work with others. Ruth’s Table is encouraging everyone to submit any creative projects of choice, from traditional art pieces like paintings and sculpture to other creative endeavors like recipes, musical pieces, and more.

Everyone and anyone is invited to submit their creative project for consideration and submissions are open now through June 1st. The submission process is easy and consists of a short write-up about the project, a photo of the project if applicable, and a short, 2 to 3 sentence bio. The full submission guidelines are available on Ruth’s Table’s website. To submit, please reach out to Ruth’s Table at contact@ruthstable.org or 415.505.3269. Participants will be notified about inclusion in the exhibit by July 1st.

If you are working on a creative project during this time, also consider sharing photos and your process on social media using the hashtag #RTmakes. We’re excited to see what you create and how you are utilizing creativity to stay connected.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Covia’s Market Day has stepped in to provide fresh produce and staples to almost 1,600 seniors.

Market Day, a Covia Community Services program designed to offer pop-up produce markets in accessible locations such as senior communities, senior centers, and churches, made the difficult decision to temporarily close its events starting in mid-March in light of the risk they might present to seniors and volunteers alike. But the team is working behind the scenes to provide new, creative ways to get fresh produce to seniors without exposing them to risk of infection. 

“Covia knows that our clients, residents, and neighbors are all dealing with a lot of challenges during this pandemic,” Market Day posted on its Facebook page. As a result, “During the month of April, Covia offered produce delivery for free to older adults and community members.”

In April, Covia employees and volunteers wearing masks delivered bags of produce to 1,593 seniors living in twelve locations that normally host Market Day, ranging in location from Santa Rosa in Sonoma County to Pomona in Southern California. Each delivery contained a variety of fresh produce, from blueberries to broccoli, pears to zucchini, along with a pound of rice.

“The gesture alone helped my spirits,” said a resident of Presidio Gate Apartments, a Covia Affordable Community in San Francisco. “The bananas and berries were most appreciated and the sweet potatoes were good mashed.”

“I can’t tell you how much the groceries will be appreciated by my residents,” said a staff person at Cottonwood Place in Fremont. “I’ve seen the need for food increasing. This is so generous of Covia and it is definitely needed…We will get through this all together.”

As for the Market Day team, “We can’t wait to celebrate all our volunteers when our Markets open again soon!”

Market Day is a program of Covia Community Services. Find more information about Market Day or make a donation to support this vital program here.

The Social Call program connects older adults with volunteers for one on one visits in person or over the phone. Due to social distancing and shelter in place orders, the program is holding all visits over the phone and has added a new card writing component where volunteers write cards that are sent to Covia Community Services participants, Covia communities, and other senior living communities. They’ve sent 4,100 cards so far. During this time, opening the mailbox to a personalized card can go a long way to brighten spirits and help someone who is isolated feel connected to the wider world.

Social Call is actively seeking volunteers to write cards. There has been a great turnout from existing Social Call volunteers who are also visiting with participants one on one over the phone, new volunteers who signed up specifically to write cards, and employees from throughout Covia.

Covia Foundation Development Associate Michelle Haines was excited to participate. Haines says “I love putting smiles on people’s faces. This is a challenging time for humanity, and it’s important that people know that we’re all in this together and that no one is alone. Lonely maybe, but definitely not alone.”

Volunteers are “giving someone a little visit and hug via mail” says Social Call Program Manager Amber Dean. The program has been providing volunteers with suggestions on how to reach out in meaningful ways from sharing what they are grateful for to discussing what they have been doing while sheltering in place. Haines suggests “Use as much sunshine and color as you possibly can! It may be the only ray of sunshine and color the recipient receives that particular day when they open your letter.”              

The Social Call team has been receiving positive notes and messages from participants who have received a card. One participant reached out to the program with the message “I want to say thank you for the beautiful card I received… a lovely note expressing their concern for me and wishing me all the best. I truly, truly appreciate that so much, you have no idea.” Another recipient noted “I was really feeling down and then a card came in the mail and it meant so much. Printed so very nicely and it said warm hugs, that was so nice. I’m keeping this card. I would never part with something like that. It’s just wonderful. It really made my day, today is a better day.”

The card writing campaign also has a positive impact on the volunteers who are creating the cards. Haines notes that what she enjoys most about the project is “knowing that I made a difference in the life of a beautiful stranger and that the world is a better place for having done so. Love wins!” At a time when normal life has been transformed, the act of reaching out to make a personal connection has the possibility to positively impact those on both ends of the interaction.

Volunteers have even been expressing their creativity by making their own cards. Pieces submitted for the program have included homemade cards utilizing stamps, scrapbooking paper, and stickers. One volunteer even created a whole selection of cards utilizing different images of birds. Volunteering has become a family affair for some with kids creating drawings to be sent with the cards or turned into cards themselves. No matter what materials are on hand, they can be utilized to brighten a participant’s day.

The call for card writing volunteers is ongoing. If you are interested or would like to learn more, please email us at socialcall@covia.org. It is a simple and safe volunteering opportunity during this time that can make a difference for you and an isolated older adult.

On Wednesday, April 15, Covia was informed that there are two confirmed cases of Coronavirus (or COVID-19) at our San Francisco Towers community. SFT immediately contacted the San Francisco Department of Public Health and is following all of their guidance. In addition to the Infection Control Plan that was already in place, San Francisco Towers immediately implemented a prescribed protocol to respond to these positive cases of COVID-19.

Those affected are a resident in the Skilled Nursing Facility and a nurse who was caring for that resident.

“We have been fortunate so far to not have any cases of COVID-19 in any of our Life Plan communities, but we prepared, expecting this day would come,” says Mary McMullin, Covia’s Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. “We know that the San Francisco Towers staff is well equipped to respond to this situation.”

The resident, who began experiencing shortness of breath on Tuesday, was tested for COVID-19. The  symptoms increased overnight and the resident was admitted to a San Francisco hospital on Wednesday where the test result came back positive. The nurse was tested due to working at another site with COVID-19 positive cases and the result came back positive. The staff member was not tested in conjunction with working at the Towers. Appropriate protocols are being taken.

The resident’s roommate in the Skilled Nursing Facility was tested and found negative for COVID-19.  

As required by California Department of Public Health protocol, all staff that interacted with the patients in this skilled nursing room will be surveilled and a log will be maintained with frequent checks of their vital signs. Any staff that are symptomatic will be tested for COVID-19.

The community is asking residents to take extra precautions, including remaining in their apartments except for medically necessary purposes. Residents returning back from trips will be quarantined in their rooms for 14 days and monitored for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

San Francisco Towers has also contracted with an outside vendor who will thoroughly sanitize the entire Skilled Nursing Facility.

“The safety of our community members is of the greatest importance to us,” says San Francisco Towers Executive Director Christina Spence in a letter to residents. “We continue to take all available steps to control the spread of infection, based on the recommendations of the Department of Public Health and our own best practices for infection control and prevention.”

San Francisco Towers is not a Skilled Nursing Facility, but a multi-level Life Plan Community, primarily consisting of independent living apartments. Only 18 of its approximately 300 residents are receiving skilled nursing care. 

We will provide further updates as they become available.

Questions can be emailed to C19info@covia.org.  

Update: April 17, 2020

San Francisco Towers has begun testing all residents in its Skilled Nursing Facility for COVID-19 in the wake of a resident and a nurse testing positive earlier this week (April 15). This testing far exceeds the current guidelines of the San Francisco Department of Public Health for what they consider a “low risk exposure” at the community. The community will also do periodic testing of skilled nursing staff.

“This is a unique process to address SFT’s specific situation and aims to ensure the well-being of our Towers community,” says Executive Director Christina Spence.

SFT purchased the limited available tests from a private provider. The tests will be performed under an umbrella order from SFT’s medical director and results are expected within five days of submissions. Health care for individuals who test positive will follow public health quarantine protocols. SFT is working closely with the San Francisco County Department of Public Health, which, if needed, will direct any future testing.

SFT also continues to implement all current steps to control the spread of infection based on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the SFDPH and utilization of best practices for infection control and prevention.

Update: April 20, 2020

Results so far from testing Skilled Nursing residents and San Francisco Towers staff have found one additional resident with a positive case of COVID-19. Although largely asymptomatic, the resident is now in the hospital for further testing. The resident’s roommate tested negative for COVID-19.

A few resident and staff results are still pending but complete results will be shared as soon as they become available.

The SFT resident who was diagnosed last Wednesday, April 15th was reported by the hospital to be in critical but stable condition. Covia continues to monitor the resident’s status and to communicate with the person holding Durable Power of Attorney.

In addition, San Francisco Towers has heard from two Independent Living residents who have been traveling since mid-March who contracted – and recovered from – COVID-19. SFT Executive Director Christina Spence writes, “We are under the impression that they were not exposed to the Coronavirus at the Towers, but while they were out of state. We do not believe their illness will have any effect on the Towers community. We are also very happy to hear that they have fully recovered.” 

Update: April 24, 2020

San Francisco Towers reports that one additional staff person has tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be working at the community for at least two weeks. The staff person, who is asymptomatic, had been in self-isolation since Monday, April 20 and was tested as part of surveillance testing provided by the Towers.

The community has received all results for its Skilled Nursing residents with no further positive tests. Executive Director Christina Spence says, “Several residents are in isolation due to positive roommate exposure but have tested negative and have no symptoms.” 

The initial resident found positive remains hospitalized in critical condition. The second resident found positive was in hospital under observation, but has since returned to SFT where isolation precautions are being taken, including team members dedicated to this resident’s care. The first staff person who tested positive is asymptomatic and recovering in self-isolation at home.

Update: April 28, 2020

The resident from San Francisco Towers’ Skilled Nursing Facility who tested positive for COVID-19 on April 15th has passed away. Executive Director Christina Spence informed residents and staff of the news today, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers of peace and comfort go to the friends and family members.”

Currently, there are four active cases of COVID-19 connected to San Francisco Towers: two residents and two staff. 

The former roommate of the resident, who had originally tested negative, returned a positive result late on April 24. This resident, as well as the second resident in the Skilled Nursing Facility who tested positive, are in individual rooms being supported by dedicated staff in the isolation wing and “are doing well.”

The first staff member who tested COVID-19 positive has recovered and is cleared to return for work. The second staff member remains asymptomatic at home. 

A third staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. San Francisco Towers received the results today for a test administered on April 21 as part of the community’s blanket voluntary employee testing. “We are determining whether any residents or other employees might have been exposed. We are also taking steps to ensure that the employee’s colleagues receive the proper testing and take appropriate precautions,” Spence reports. 

San Francisco Towers has enhanced its employee screening process to include the additional symptoms listed by the CDC as potential indicators of COVID-19. Employee temperatures are now tested twice per shift. Employees who are not required to use medical personal protective equipment have been provided with face coverings from their supervisors to wear whenever they are in the Towers. In addition, SFT is providing cloth face coverings for employees to wear when they are off site.

Update: May 8, 2020

Currently, there are two residents and two staff who have active cases of COVID-19.  

Late on Wednesday, May 6, an Independent Living resident in the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Executive Director Christina Spence says, “We are currently doing trace testing and have told those we know have been in contact with this resident to remain in isolation.” 

One resident previously in isolation after being found positive for COVID-19 has recovered and returned to the Resident Health Center on Thursday, May 7. The second resident who tested positive is reported to be “doing very well.” The community anticipates that this resident will also be cleared and able to leave the isolation unit soon.

Although not all test results have returned, tests for SFT team members have been found negative for COVID-19. Of the three team members who tested positive, one was cleared and has returned to work and the other two are doing well in self-isolation at home.

Update: May 29, 2020

San Francisco Towers has had no new cases of COVID-19 since our last update on May 8. The resident who tested positive on May 6 has recovered and returned to Independent Living. Currently, only one staff person remains in isolation and is expected to be cleared to return to work soon.

During one of his daily briefings, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York told listeners to be “socially distanced but spiritually connected.” Covia’s Spiritual Care team is responding to the challenge of the COVID-19 stay at home orders with creative solutions to keep residents spiritually connected during holy days and every day.

Holy Days

Since gathering in person is not a possibility, the chaplains have found new ways to offer Holy Week and Passover services for their communities.

At Spring Lake Village, Chaplains Jacquie Robb and Jeanne Forte have worked with a member of the Wellness staff to record services for Palm Sunday and Easter that are broadcast on the community’s internal TV channel. Bulletins are distributed to interested residents so that all can participate, including singing along with favorite hymns.

For Passover, Chaplain Meredith Cahn worked with Well Connected to develop a virtual Seder that will be offered live on Zoom on Thursday, April 9. Residents from all Covia communities as well as seniors living elsewhere can register to join by calling Well Connected at 877-797-7299 or emailing coviaconnections@covia.org. Cahn also created a coronavirus-related haggadah, available for all participants. The St. Paul’s Towers community in Oakland, where Cahn serves as chaplain, is creating individual Seder plates that will be delivered to the apartments of residents who wish to participate.

At San Francisco Towers, Chaplain Hans Hoch is assisting the community’s Passover celebration with Congregation Emanu-El via Zoom and offering opening remarks and welcome. He is also broadcasting Sunday services through the community’s CCTV.

Every day

Chaplains have been turning to phone calls and other ways of reaching out and staying connected. Chaplain Cahn from St. Paul’s Towers says, “I provide one-on-one support over every remote medium I can.” Chaplain Kevin Philips from Canterbury Woods says, “I make several calls each day and so far have reached over 80% of the community in meaningful conversations.” “People need connection; they are so appreciative of calls,” says Chaplain Robb at Spring Lake Village.

The chaplains have also adapted to using Zoom as a way to offer services and keep connected – including helping residents learn the new system. Chaplain Cahn, who had surgery in early March, says, “Since I was expecting to be on medical leave convalescing from surgery, this has happened at a perfect time to work remotely. As soon as the shelter in place orders came, I was able to start working with our amazing IT staff member, Eric Powell, to introduce residents to Zoom.”

Using Zoom provides opportunities for residents to meet for services and spiritual practices. Chaplain Forte, drawing from her Episcopal tradition, is offering an evening Compline service daily by Zoom for residents at Spring Lake Village while Chaplain Robb is offering a weekly meditation class through the Zoom application. “Fourteen people came to our first meeting!” Robb reports.

Along with providing spiritual care for residents, the chaplains are a resource for Covia’s employees as well. Many of the chaplains are providing daily emails with reflections, spiritual practices, and other resources for their colleagues. Chaplain Philips from Canterbury Woods shared his own poem, Strange Days, to emphasize that “There is nothing that can keep our hearts apart.” Another day, Lily Godsoe, chaplain at Webster House, shared a simple breathing meditation practice to help reduce stress.

Laura Darling, VP of Spiritual Care for Covia, sends a daily email to staff at Support Services (Covia’s administrative offices in Walnut Creek – now all working remotely), Community Services, and Covia’s Affordable Communities. “One of the things I hope to do with these spiritual care emails is provide a real range of ways to connect with your spirit,” she said in one of her emails, which included a link to a 10-minute meditation video, a downloadable sheet for coloring, and the link to a blog post providing support and encouragement. “These emails are meant to provide support for people who come from a wide range of religious backgrounds, including those with no religious background at all,” Darling says. “This pandemic is affecting all of us, and we need to support one another in all kinds of ways.”

Advice from the Chaplains

When asked what they would say to help those who are socially distancing take care of their spirit, the chaplains had this advice:

Chaplain Jacquie Robb, Spring Lake Village: Give yourself plenty of rest and good food; don’t worry so much about getting things accomplished but give yourself time to BE with yourself and connect with others.

Try to Zoom with each other and do things together online. For instance, I’m watching a play that is offered online with a friend from Maine. Find a routine. Keep moving your body. Pray/meditate. Ask God the hard questions (Where are you in all this?) and listen for a response.

Chaplain Jeanne Forte, Spring Lake Village: Be gentle with yourself. There will be time, when this pandemic is over, for ‘amendment of life’ things. Now is not the time to launch into demanding life changes. Keep things simple. Keep things kind. Be generous with yourself.​

Chaplain Meredith Cahn, St. Paul’s Towers: Be in regular contact with loved ones – daily, or even more often, using every medium possible. Help your parent/grandparent/whoever get on Zoom or Skype or Facetime. Exercise, eat healthy, limit news intake. Laugh when you can find it. Dance. Recognize and name your fears, and see if you can let them go.

Chaplain Kevin Philips, Canterbury Woods: Food for the spirit comes in so many forms and by so many conduits. For those I know who have faith in something, I will encourage tapping in to that. For those who are able, I encourage walks or just sitting on a bench somewhere on our beautiful campus. For those with only a phone, I suggest calling up old friends. For those with Zoom, I pass on information about how to connect with others. For those without Zoom who have a computer, I encourage them to download it and give them the information they need to do that. 

I hear myself say to people who are angry or having some other ego dystonic feeling:  “Don’t judge your feelings. That will only make it worse. Feelings are feelings and don’t have to be rational. Just accept that you are feeling that way and let it pass through you.” 

Image: Chaplains at a weekly Zoom meeting.