The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Annette Balter, Covia’s Director of Senior Resources for Contra Costa County, was recently named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise for her work in developing the Rotary Home Team program throughout the Bay Area.

Rotary Home Team sends teams of Rotarians into their community to provide free, basic home maintenance and repairs to older adults. It was created by Hays Englehart, a member of the Lamorinda Sunrise Rotary, who was inspired by the time spent with his own father going through the list of small repairs that needed to be done when Englehart came to visit.

“He’d sit there with a glass of wine and he’d be the supervisor. After my dad died, I kind of missed that. And I said, ‘There’s got to be other seniors out there that need this service. They don’t have a son or neighbor to be there. Let me check into that.’ Sure enough, there was a huge need.”

At a holiday dinner, Englehart shared his idea with his cousin, Terry Englehart, who worked for Covia (then called Episcopal Senior Communities) as the original creator of Well Connected. “I asked ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘That’s a great idea! Let me put you in touch with some people.’ And that’s where it started.”

In 2010, Rotary Home Team launched in Contra Costa County. “The very first time was a cold February day. I remember it like yesterday,” says Englehart. “I was trying to guess what we would need to take with us. I took some basic hand tools and said we’d figure it out as we go. So we went, and I think we had three or four requests and the learning process started.”

Repairs can range from fixing a leaky toilet to changing smoke alarm batteries to making sure doors move freely. Annette Balter explains, “Rotary Home Team literally keeps the lights on for older adults who can’t change lightbulbs in their high ceilings! Fixing little things around the home is a unique service for people who aren’t able to do these jobs themselves any longer, and for whom the cost of hiring someone is prohibitive.”

But Englehart says, “The most interesting thing is the people, not what we’re fixing. Because half of HOME Team we’ve found is just visiting with the seniors, talking with them, learning about their friends and family and how long they’ve been there.”

From its first club, Rotary Home Team has expanded to 23 throughout California, ranging from Weaverville to Encinitas. Covia’s role is to support the 17 clubs in its service area, providing program administration, follow up, support, and outreach.

Balter has conducted outreach and made presentations to many local Rotary Clubs over the past two and a half years, expanding the program in Contra Costa County from 5 clubs to 13. But she wants to see more growth in the future. “I would love to expand the program in each of the seven Bay Area counties that Covia serves,” she says.

Balter’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by Rotary. “Our Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise presented Annette Balter our most prestigious award, a Paul Harris Fellowship, for her superior service to the Rotary Home Team cause,” says Englehart. “Annette has worked diligently with us for many years and the Home Team program has grown exponentially directly due to her efforts. The award is the highest award a Rotary Club can bestow on a Non-Rotarian and it doesn’t happen very often.”

And this growth is having a real impact. In 2017 in Contra Costa County alone, Rotary HOME Team provided 318 visits to 244 seniors. This year, with new clubs involved, Englehart says, “I’m estimating we’re visiting about 100 seniors every two months. That’s 600 a year. You do the math. That’s the kind of impact that is pretty quantifiable.”

But the impact also comes down to the individuals they serve. “Our oldest participant in the program is a 103 year old woman in Walnut Creek,” says Balter. “She calls every time we have a Rotary Home Team work day. The volunteers love visiting her!”

Englehart agrees. “I don’t tell people how to fix things. They’re supposed to know that. But here’s how we talk to our seniors. That’s why you’re going out. We want you to be able to do that. Each Rotarian that goes out there and sees that and walks away, they have that very positive feeling. We’ve done something. We didn’t just replace a battery. We really helped.”

If your Rotary club is interested in participating in Rotary Home Team, please email info@rotaryhometeam.com. For more information, visit the Covia Rotary Home Team webpage at https://covia.org/services/rotary-home-team/ or the Rotary Home Team website at http://www.rotaryhometeam.com/.

October 9 is the anniversary of the devastating fires that swept through Santa Rosa in 2017. Residents from both Spring Lake Village and Jennings Court were evacuated and twelve of Covia’s staff lost their home in the fires.

Here are a few of the stories from our residents and staff. If you have a memory you wish to share, please email it to Laura Darling at ltdarling@covia.org.

Fred Jennings Court resident
I was almost caught in the fire itself. I was housesitting up on the very top of Fountain Grove and taking care of a little dog who was recovering from a broken back surgery. And banging on the door, I ran to the front door, it was 1:00 in the morning, a man was yelling, “We have to leave! We have to leave! Everything is on fire!” I could see the blazes coming up across the street. So the dog and I and everything left there within 12 minutes. Toby is the dog’s name, was so cool, he let me glide him in and glide him out and out we went. And then it was very slow because of all of the traffic coming all the way down. I got home here, and the very next day all our electricity went out. So I carried Toby up and down the stairs for that time when it was out. And here the dog was healing from back injury. Well, his owner has been so kind to me! And I think he would have if we got to know each other, but this was the first time I house sat for him. He always introduces me, “This is Fred who saved Toby.”

Patricia Burke Skilled Nursing Housekeeping, Spring Lake Village

The morning of the fires was chaotic. Our neighbor came and knocked on doors and said we had to get out because the fire was coming. We grabbed the dog and put him in the neighbor’s car and drove off. We didn’t grab anything else because we didn’t ever think we’d lose everything.

We drove away and tried to notify other neighbors by banging on their doors and trying to help with evacuations. Everything was burned the next day when we went back home. I called my supervisor and let her know my house was gone and I wouldn’t be reporting to work. She assured me my job was secure and told me to take my time coming back into work. I was paid for the time I was off, that helped immensely.

After only a few days off, I returned to work, mostly because I needed something to keep my mind off the loss. The entire staff and residents were very compassionate and gave continued hugs (they still do when they see me). There were donations from all areas – LeadingAge California, LeadingAge National, Covia, credit unions, residents, architects, local communities and even co-workers all donated to us. The compassion from executive staff was strong and the ongoing continued support has been paramount to my emotional healing. You don’t ever really get over such devastation, and having co-workers and residents still ask how I’m doing feels really good.

Covia has done a great job of supporting continued communications with co-workers, who were also greatly affected by the fires and we’ve created an internal support group to help each other through the rough times.

We were offered outside counseling and it was important to know, even though I relied on friends and family for support, that the option was available to me.

Renee Hayward Spring Lake Village, Director of Social Services

I remember waking up in the night and running from the fire. The first thing I grabbed was my work clothes because I knew I had to go to work on Monday.

We left and later learned our home and entire neighborhood burned to the ground. When I went back to work on Tuesday, I didn’t know the extent of the fire and didn’t realize until I showed up to Spring Lake Village that we were going to have to evacuate due to smoke damage. As a social worker, I had experience working in these sensitive situations and knew I had to find permanent places, call families, and mostly ensure the sound emotional and medical states of our residents. I was operating in survival mode at that point and just keeping my mind off my own devastation and loss the day prior.

Two days after the fires, we all went to Casa Grande gym to support our memory and skilled nursing residents. Our residents did really well and one said to me, “I used to work at Red Cross and set up for war…this is nothing compared to that.” I called families and helped residents get placed and transferred to other communities as soon as possible. There were 11 of us who lost our homes here and just talking with other staff was very valuable.

Once I knew all the residents were evacuated and settled, I finally took some time off to provide the emotional support to my family. Just driving was tough after the fires as my husband and I were in a fog. During the whole event, I really learned that everyone rallies the few months of the emergency and it was very valuable to have that ongoing support. The hardest part of the whole ordeal is that people who haven’t gone through that kind of total loss don’t understand the timeline. First you battle with insurance and then you are just in basic survival mode. Anything out of the normal, even a simple flat tire, is devastating. You look for things you ”had” and people don’t understand that feeling. Your body is in transition and you feel like you’re on vacation. In addition, you forget your things are gone. The entire situation was tough but it helped me better understand what residents are going through. I now have a greater level of personal empathy for their situations.

I would offer communities that should your staff go through a crisis, don’t be afraid to ask, “how’s it going?” It’s okay to say “I’m sorry” and it’s important to have a staff and a resident meeting that provides updates on all individuals involved. Covia was great at respecting our right to privacy and letting us “tell our story” as we were comfortable.

[Originally printed in LeadingAge California’s Engage Magazine]

Madeleine Jennings Court resident

During the fire, it was terrifying. I don’t know any other way to describe it. We were without power, I think maybe it was only 24 hours, it might have been a little longer. Someone came over to check on me and took me and another friend to her house to recharge our phones because we were without power to recharge phones.

Just knowing that so many people were impacted – and still are. It’s a beautiful community, though, for the fact that those of us who live here are low income and we gave. It wasn’t, “Well, we don’t have enough to give.” When it’s in a situation when you know others need something, everyone pulled together. I would say, “This person’s daughter lost everything and her husband’s a musician.” I had friends give me a banjo, I had guitar music given to me. Just those kind of things mean so much, and I was amazed myself at the things I was willing to part with in order to assist others. So that’s the beauty of it, and it’s something that will live with us for a long, long time.

We are pleased to announce that Covia has been recognized as one of the 50 Best Workplaces in Aging Services in a new list published in Fortune. Covia ranked 29th among senior housing organizations nationwide.

This is the first time Fortune and Great Places to Work have created a list for the Aging Services industry, which includes both senior housing and at-home care. According to Fortune, the list was developed by analyzing survey results from more than 162,000 employees working in both aspects of the industry.

“We are honored to be recognized in this list of organizations in Aging Services,” says Kevin Gerber, President and CEO. “We are especially proud of all the incredible Covia employees who help us live out our mission and guiding principles every day. Their excellence, compassion and camaraderie are what make us a great place to work.” 

“Making the list is a huge accomplishment,” says Prab Brinton, Vice President of Human Resources. “Although we have room to grow, I’m very proud of what this recognition says about our organizational culture.”

The article in Fortune Magazine can be found at http://fortune.com/2018/09/27/best-workplaces-for-aging-services-2018/

Covia’s organizational profile is online at http://reviews.greatplacetowork.com/covia

Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa is hosting its 4th annual Wellness Games the week of September 24-28.

Held during International Active Aging Week, the Wellness Games celebrate all dimensions of wellness, including social, emotional, intellectual, physical, occupational, environmental, spiritual, and financial wellness.

According to Spring Lake Village Director of Wellness Diane Waltz, “Wellness is an expanded idea of health and means more than the absence of disease. It is much more than being in good physical health, exercising regularly, and eating right. True wellness is determined by the decisions one makes about how to live life with vitality and meaning.”

Each year’s Wellness Games include a wide array of activities such as a walk-a-thon, treasure hunt, table tennis tournament, sing-a-long, bird walk, brain fitness challenges, poetry readings, and the ever-popular SLV’s Got Talent Show. Participants can win points for an activity in any of the eight dimensions of wellness. For example, they can get physical wellness points for going for a walk; earn emotional wellness points by smiling five times a day; collect intellectual wellness points by reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle; gain social wellness points by playing bridge with a friend; or add environmental points by recycling.

The games are open to residents and staff across the community. Residents and staff are randomly assigned to one of six color teams. Participants are notified of their color team assignment the week before the games begin and given a team color button or bracelet to wear throughout the week. The team getting the most points receives a team photo and color team recognition on the Wellness Games Plaque displayed in the Montgomery Center for a year.

But everyone benefits from Wellness Week as it builds relationships and community throughout Spring Lake Village. And it’s fun. Waltz says, “I love that it brings residents across all levels of care and employees across all departments together for a week of fun activities that promote all dimensions of wellness.”

After graduating from high school in Vallejo, Jasphere “Phey” Abuan wanted to be a biochemist. “I was actually in a biochem program back in the day,” she says, “and then life happens.” In 2000, she left an abusive relationship, took her 8-month-old daughter and the $30 she had in her pocket and moved home to live with her mother. Now, with the support of Covia’s employee Educational Assistance program, she is preparing to enter a graduate program for a Master’s Degree in Physician’s Assistant Studies.

After returning to Vallejo, Phey joined a temp agency that assigned her to construction companies. “I did subcontracting, I did liens, I did accounts payable stuff. I picked it up really quick. And I picked up the 10 key really fast too. That’s when I decided, ‘I have this kid. I need to do something. And I can’t do anything without a degree.’” While working, she got her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and a minor in accounting in 2009. But she still hoped to work for a health-related organization.

Married and with a second child, Phey got laid off from her job with the construction company in 2010. “I got into another temp job I didn’t like so much. It was still construction but more, like, pipes. It paid the bills. I was still looking for something and then [in 2012] I got an opportunity for another temp to hire job here. They told me it’s a senior living community management type company and I’m like, ‘Yes! This is what I want.’ So I finally got in here, got my foot in the door.”

Her work with Covia took her to visit Webster House Health Center. “I would go there and I would see the facility and it intrigued me.” Observing the Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), nurses, and others made Phey revisit her dream to enter the medical field – a dream that was also part of her family history. Her father had studied to be a doctor in the Philippines, but the death of his father had interrupted his studies. Instead, after immigrating to the US with Phey and her two siblings, he had had to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet for his family.

At Covia, “my manager  pushed us to look into the Educational Assistance program at every finance meeting we had,” Phey says. However, she didn’t think she qualified since the program is for training directly related to a person’s job or career path at Covia. “I thought, it can’t be applied to me, because I want to be a PA [Physician’s Assistant] and I don’t think there’s a lot of PAs employed directly here. So I talked to Prab [Brinton, VP of HR] and Prab said, ‘It’s still a medical line. You can totally do that.’”

Phey began her studies in 2016. “Every new fiscal year, I applied to complete one grueling class. In 2016, I completed my Chemistry class. In 2017, I completed my Anatomy & Physiology class, and in 2018, I have completed my Biochemistry class using the Educational Assistance program here at Covia. I coordinated the most expensive courses first and paid out of pocket with my other courses. I also took advantage in borrowing from my Covia 403b to pay for other classes.” Her final class this semester is Human Biology at Diablo Valley College. “We get to dissect a pig. I’m so excited!”

In January, Phey plans to get her certificate to be a CNA. While continuing in her full-time position as Payroll Specialist at Support Services, she will also work on getting at least 2,000 direct care hours as a CNA at Covia Communities before applying for Physician’s Assistant programs.

“One thing led to another for me and it was kind of – I don’t know, it was just magical. If you asked me when I was hired here, I had no clue. But one question I had that I actually asked opened up doors for other opportunities that can advance my career. And that I did not expect,” Phey says.

Her biggest advice for Covia employees who wonder if this benefit applies to them is simply to ask. “There’s so much opportunity that we as Covia Communities give our employees. If you’re interested, get the information. There are so many benefits out there – not just medical benefits. Our HR group has a lot of information that can guide you through these things. So if you’re interested in any – even if you don’t know if there are benefits out there, ask. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

To observe National Assisted Living Week, Laura Darling, Senior Director of Communications, talked to some of our staff to explain more about this misunderstood part of community life.

LD: What do you wish people knew about Assisted Living?

Barb Fischer, Director of Resident Health Services, St. Paul’s Towers: Many people think that Assisted Living refers to a nursing home. I want people to realize that Assisted Living communities are just like Independent Living communities, except assistance of different levels can be provided in their apartment and staff are available 24/7.  

Lucy L. Ascalon, RN, Assistant Director of Resident Health Services & Assisted Living Manager, San Francisco TowersI wish people knew more about Assisted Living, how we take care of people and what other services we provide as a whole.

Charmaine Verador, Director of Resident Health Services, Los Gatos Meadows: One question that always comes up is “Do I have to share a room?” Our assisted living residents, just like independent living residents have their own apartments that they enjoy privately.

Our assisted living residents mingle and socialize with independent living residents because really, there is not much difference. They have the same apartment settings, go to the same dining room and activities as they can tolerate. Residents in assisted living are only getting assistance so that they can continue with their daily lives.

In Assisted Living we do not take over everything. We personalize our care according to what they need. For example if the resident is still able to shower but will need medication management, then we encourage their independence on the shower task and assist with their medications.

LD: My sense is a lot of people are afraid of moving from Independent Living to Assisted Living. What would you like people who feel that way to know about Assisted Living?

Barb Fischer: This is totally true!  I always joke about our independent living residents hiding when they see me coming down the hall as they are fearful I want to move them. I really don’t have that desire at all!  I want the residents to stay in their apartments as long as possible and have help there if they need it.  That is the great thing about the whole community being licensed, which allows residents to receive care or assistance in their Independent Living apartment just like Assisted Living.  It gives us the ability to provide assistance in their apartment for longer periods of time.  

Lucy L. Ascalon: I think the reason basically that they are afraid of moving to Assisted Living is that they believe they will give up being independent. But I would like the residents to know that  we also can extend their being independent by assisting them and keeping them safe and sound, by having somebody 24/7 that checks with them all shift.

Charmaine Verador: Residents feel like they are losing their independence when they move to Assisted Living. But when a resident needs assistance, it is because they have a hard time safely completing some but not all of their activities of daily living. Most of the time, it takes all their energy and effort to accomplish one task that in the end they are no longer able to do anything else for the day because they are too tired. For example, I have a resident that took 2 hour showers because he had a hard time reaching over, getting in and out of the shower, and picking his clothes from the closet. When he moved to Assisted Living, it seems that he had more energy walking to the dining room for meals, and he gets his shower done faster and more efficiently. He is able to go to activities and has thrived well in Assisted Living – better than when he was in Independent Living. He now also appears worry free and is enjoying more activities.

LD: How do you support people who make the move from Independent Living to Assisted Living?

Barb Fischer: In the event the move to Assisted Living is necessary, we always look at the pros and what the benefits are to living on a floor with staffing 24 hours a day. Sometimes it makes more sense for the resident to reside in an Assisted Living apartment based on their needs.

Lucy L. Ascalon: We give them our 100% support in any way we can.

Charmaine Verador: Although it is not required by licensing, we have a nurse 24 hours that checks on the residents when needed. Once they move to Assisted Living, the nurse would visit them more frequently in the beginning just to make sure that their needs are met and that they are settling well. I also visit them during the first day or first few days to see how they settled in.

We have continuity of care meeting every week and we talk about the care of the resident that has just moved to Assisted Living (i.e. are they adjusting well, etc.). During monthly meetings, the staff contribute their feedback and observation about new resident in Assisted Living and we come up with an action plan if there is a need. If needed, we follow up with a care conference. We also check in with the family and see if there is anything else we can do.

LD: What else would you like to share about your work or about Assisted Living in your community?

Barb Fischer: I believe the key to creating a happy assisted living community is letting the residents be involved in their care, keep them as independent as we can for as long as possible, and consistent communication with families. For the families, it’s all about the details.  As long as we get the details right and our resident feels safe and secure, we are good! 

Lucy L. Ascalon: For me I love what I do, I love serving people and I feel productive every day knowing that I am able to help the staff and the residents.

For more than 20 years, muralist Dan Fontes has helped share the story of Bethany Center Senior Housing in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fontes first created the “Salud!” mural that covers the 9-story building at 21st and Capp Street in 1997 with only one assistant. Now, he is in the midst of a full restoration, working with five other skilled artists to bring even more life to his original vision.

The idea behind the mural was to bring the inside of Bethany outside by sharing true-to-life images of some of the residents. “Unfortunately at the time I had to wrap it up a little too soon,” he says. “So this time I’ve been able to develop the characters more fully as I originally intended. Probably a lot of the neighbors won’t even be able to notice, but I would notice. There’s a few color changes here and there. We’ve brightened up their clothing so they’re not so gray. They’re just more lively, which is what I always intended: to have the seniors look lively and happy and activated and just living their fullest lives.”

Starting at 7:00 each morning, Fontes and his team – Desi Mundo, Kristi Holohan, Antoinette Johnson, Gwen Renee, and Haley Summerfield – use brushes as small as ¼ inch to apply acrylic paint over every inch of the 98 foot tall building, followed by three coats of heavy-duty anti-graffiti varnish.

“I have the dream team. These people have it all. They’re talented. They’re full of courage because you have to have courage to step out over that 9th floor at 98 to 100 feet,” says Fontes.

“We’ve gone through a lot of brushes and a lot of the human figures have now been triple-coated with new paint, so it’s as if you’re painting an entirely new mural on top of the one that’s here. I think it’s going to show.”

“People ask if that’s me in the mural,” says Elizabeth Dunlap who has lived at Bethany since before the mural was first developed. “I think they are surprised that it shows actual people that live here at Bethany.”

The mural also includes a silhouette of the steeple of the Methodist Church formerly located on the site. Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, was established in the late 1960’s as a ministry of the United Methodist Church in San Francisco to provide affordable housing for low income seniors. In addition to 133 apartments, Bethany offers programs, activities, and special events through Ruth’s Table, an art and wellness space named for renowned San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.

For former Bethany Center CEO Jerry Brown, now Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, the mural represents a connection to the Mission and the greater San Francisco community and illustrates the “empowerment of people of diverse backgrounds aging well with vitality in a place they call home.”

“To me that’s a really critical message: that people understand this is a senior center, these are beautiful people who live here, that it’s a diverse community that’s shared by multiple races and people from different countries and areas,” says Fontes. “It’s a positive place, it’s a beautiful place, it’s a gathering of souls. In a way, it’s a work of art.”

Bethany Center Senior Housing will unveil the completely restored mural in mid-October as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

For 30 years, Great Place to Work (GPTW) has been recognizing outstanding workplace cultures and producing the annual FORTUNE “100 Best Companies to Work For®” and FORTUNE Best Workplaces lists. This year, Covia has been recognized by GPTW and was recently certified as a Great Place to Work.

Previously, Covia had been recognized as a Best Place to Work in the Bay Area. With the Great Place to Work certification, Covia is being recognized on a national level for its workplace culture.

“Covia is filled with passionate people, and is a fun, open, energetic and inclusive environment,” says Prab Brinton, VP of Human Resources. “The company has strong values and guiding principles – everyone from the top down is committed to making a difference in the lives of seniors.”

Along with market rate and affordable senior housing, Covia offers community services programs such as Well Connected, offering activities and support groups by phone or online nationwide, and Market Day, making fresh fruit and produce available in locations that are more accessible to seniors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Covia is now eligible to appear on the Best Workplaces lists, including Best Workplaces in Aging Services.

This is the first time GPTW has offered a survey and assessment specifically for the Senior Care/Aging Services industry.  According to Alana Perriello from Great Place to Work’s senior care affiliate Activated Insights, “Every organization right now is moving towards and trying to be a purpose-driven organization. What Great Places to Work and Fortune really like about us [in Aging Services] is that’s innately what we do. We help seniors live their best life possible. It’s not something we have to construct.”

Over 650 Covia staff responded to the Great Place to Work survey which asked questions based on five dimensions of employee trust: respect, fairness, credibility, pride, and camaraderie. The results: 81 percent of Covia employees say their workplace is great with 88 percent saying “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.”

Covia’s profile describes not only the results of the survey, but some of Covia’s unique perks and programs that support its employees, such as Success Sharing, Education Assistance, and free CEUs.

Brinton says, “If you are looking for a job where the work is meaningful and rewarding – work here!  Your day to day work brings great joy, care and kindness to the seniors that live in our communities and in the places we serve.”

The list of Best Workplaces in Aging Services will be published in Fortune on September 27, 2018.

For the 5th year in a row, Spring Lake Village has been named Best of Sonoma County by the readers of the Press Democrat. Along with this honor, this year Spring Lake Village also received the 2018 NuStep Gold Pinnacle Award® for excellence in wellness programming.

A Covia Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa, California, Spring Lake Village provides homes and services for over 450 seniors. It is the only senior living community in Sonoma County that offers the full continuum of care: Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and a 5-star Medicare rated 70-bed skilled nursing and rehab center.

Built on 31 acres, the community is located on Santa Rosa Creek and next to Trione-Annadel State Park and Spring Lake Regional Park. Its amenities include fine and casual dining options, a pool and fitness center, on-site resident health services, spiritual care, a full activity calendar, as well as resident-led programs.

“These sparkling residents are committed to the community with the Committees they organize and run to make this campus their own. Every voice is welcomed here and heard,” says Judy Haley, Director of Sales and Marketing.

Find out more about Spring Lake Village on their website.