The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

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

Covia’s organizational profile is online at

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.

Covia (pronounced co-VEE-a) is not a word that you will find in any dictionary. It’s not an acronym, but it still stands for something. Covia is a name that emerged from deep consideration about who we are and what we stand for as an organization.

The “co” of Covia comes from our belief in the importance of community, of connection, of companionship, of compassion. The “via” comes from two sources: both “via” – the path, and “vita” the Latin word for life.

At Covia, we come together on the path of life. We hope you’ll join us on the journey.

Covia Affordable Communities is pleased to announce it is entering into an affiliation with Bethany Center Senior Housing (BCSH) of San Francisco, strengthening both organizations’ ability to provide housing and services to low-income seniors in San Francisco. The affiliation agreement was approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and was finalized on March 15, 2018.

Bethany Center, located in the Mission District, was established in the late 1960’s as a ministry of the 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 at Ruth’s Table, an art and wellness space named for renowned San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.

Covia Affordable Communities and Bethany share a common mission to provide a continuum of care for seniors of all backgrounds. Bethany Center Chief Executive Officer Jerry Brown continues in his role leading Bethany Center.

“Together BCSH and Covia will be able to expand affordable housing to low and middle income seniors and meet the needs of our aging population with innovative services that allow them to remain at home as long as possible circumventing institutional care,” says Brown.

BCSH will join other senior affordable housing communities operated by Covia: Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto; Presidio Gate Apartments in San Francisco; Oak Center Towers in Oakland; and Jennings Court in Santa Rosa. Brown states he “looks forward to becoming part of the Covia vision on how to best meet the needs of our aging population through housing and supportive service delivery in the place they call home.”

Karim Sultan, Vice President of Affordable Housing for Covia, says, “We are so pleased that Bethany is now part of Covia Affordable Communities because they serve a very low income population that would not be able to live in San Francisco – or anywhere near San Francisco – without them.”

Find out more about Covia Affordable Communities.

The following is an interview with Mary McMullin, Senior Vice President for Organizational Advancement.

Tell me about the process of getting to Covia.

Initially we worked on our brand identity: what does our system stand for? What’s important? Based on that work, which was over several months, we sent information to professional namers, which was a team of three people. What they do for a living is try to probe an organization’s identity to then tie it to a meaningful name.

They came up with about 400 names. Then we went through and read the names silently, read them out loud, kind of did a gut check on how we felt about them, and got down to about 20 contenders. Then we spent time on the 20 contenders, searching for them online, looking to see what was similar because you don’t want to have a name that’s adjacent to something you don’t want to be affiliated with.

We also looked at some name trends. So, for example, in our field, there’s a whole bunch of groups that have “age” in their name, and there were a number of our names that had “age” at the end. After a while we rejected those because we realized we would just look like we were jumping on the bandwagon – and in the end we didn’t want to be Age-ist. The more we focused on the word “age,” the more we realized that we were not being as inclusive as we wanted to be.

There was some level of personal interpretation, but ultimately it came down to which names had the most meaning. And then of those with the most meaning, which ones could get all the rights we needed – trademark, web address.

So I would say the process was: identity, then name options, then paring down for meaning, then checking on what we could in fact control. And I think we ended up with three. And the more we all sat with Covia, the more we realized that was the name.

What does Covia mean to you?

I’m hoping it means to me what it means in general. It really is the “co” – the coming together – so you think of all the good “co” words: coordinate, collaborate, community, communicate. So all of those words are important. And then the “via” to me seems a little light-hearted. It’s upbeat. I love the dual meaning of “life” and “path.” So it really is like a command. Covia is “let’s come together on the path of life.” It’s a rallying cry.

What do you hope this change will accomplish?

I’m hoping it will simplify how we are known. All of these details and all of this work to make the change hopefully will lead to simplicity.

Before, we had multiple initials, the different companies that didn’t seem to be logically tied together, and made it really hard to explain not only who we are but all the work we do. Coming into the company last year after having been affiliated ten years, there were volumes that I didn’t know about what we did. And that’s a shame. And that shouldn’t be allowed.

So simplicity, but also getting credit, broadcasting the fact that we are multidimensional. I guess simplicity and story are what I hope it will accomplish.

What do you wish people knew about Covia as an organization?

That we take our mission and vision seriously. It is so not a statement on the wall. And the fact that we take it seriously – and also how it’s interpreted differently at each location and program. We are not in any way a monolithic organization. We have a lot of autonomy and creativity. But ultimately, it’s how do we meet that mission.

So the vision of the continuum is not just about being in a continuing care retirement community. We can offer a broader range of care and services involving people who don’t live in our communities, but create a sense of community.

I guess it comes down to, I hope people know we’re all about community.

What’s your favorite thing about this new brand?

Being able to tell the story. People say, “What’s Covia?” And that gives us an opening to talk about who we are. Using the old name, people didn’t ask. They just assumed. And so I like that we get to tell our story.

Dear Friend,

More than 50 years after our founding, we remain committed to our charitable purpose and to our Episcopal heritage: the values of welcome, inclusion, social justice, and grace. As we go forward, our identity is evolving to fully reflect the increasing range of services and communities we offer and people we serve. We have grown into a new name: Covia. This created word trumpets our aspiration to come together on the path of life.

two men conversing

At Covia, we believe how people live is as important as where people live. We believe in providing outstanding residential options and community services to help seniors get the most out of life – wherever they call home. We have been working to further our commitment to serving people of all means for over half a century.

At Covia, we celebrate age. We believe in a strong continuum of care and services. We promote well-being by building strong and engaging communities, connecting people with the services they need to thrive, and providing compassionate, personalized support.

At Covia, we strive to meet the challenges people face as they grow older. We strive to fulfill our mission, to be innovative in our services, and to be financially responsible. To do this, we rely on the dedication of our staff, the energy of our volunteer force, the commitment of our board members, the trust of our residents, friends, and community service members, and the generosity of our donors.

This new website at will begin to bring life to our new name. I welcome you to explore how ESC has become Covia and I invite your continued support of our mission.

Kevin Gerber
President and CEO

We are proud to announce our new identity as Covia.

Our new name reflects our shared purpose of bringing people together and creating a true sense of home. It reflects that we serve people both who live in our communities, and those who live in their own homes. And it reflects that, whatever our age, whatever our income, we all come together on the path of life.

Our name has changed; our mission remains the same: to cultivate healthy and engaged
communities with a continuum of innovative services that actively support intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. We look forward to the opportunities to live out our mission in all that we do, and we invite you to help us fulfill that mission.

Thank you for being part of Covia.

Senior Resources in Marin is hosting its third annual Health Services Day on Wednesday, February 21st. From 9:30 to noon, people age 60 and over can stop by the Margaret Todd Senior Center in Novato to receive a range of free services, including screenings for skin cancer, glucose testing, and fall prevention tips, as well as non-traditional treatments, such as acupuncture and trigger point massage.

senior resources logoIt’s these non-traditional treatments that set this event apart, according to Carol Ann Moore, Senior Resources Director for Marin County. “You can try out new alternatives and see if they work for you,” she says. The event also provides support for screenings and services often not covered by insurance, such as dental and vision evaluations, thanks to a wide range of community partners.

Last year, more than 150 people came to the event. Moore reports that in 2017, seniors received 225 health screenings in the course of 2 ½ hours.

“This event provides an opportunity for seniors to come to a place where they are comfortable and receive free health services,” says Moore. “The senior center is both safe and convenient.”

And the free services makes a difference. Moore reports that last year’s screenings identified several skin cancers and one melanoma. The screener was able to refer these seniors to their health care providers to follow up and receive the treatment they need.

Episcopal Senior Communities’ Senior Resources provides a variety of other programs at Margaret Todd Senior Center, including the Senior Produce Market which will also take place on February 21 from 10:00-11:00. ESC oversees more than 20 Senior Produce Markets throughout Northern California where seniors can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at cost and in reasonable quantities. The Produce Market in Novato also accepts CalFresh.

Both the Health Services Day and the Senior Produce Market are open to all people age 60 and older. The Margaret Todd Senior Center is located at 1560 Hill Road in Novato. For more information, contact Senior Resources Marin at 415-899-8290.

Artist Madeline Behrens-Brigham’s solo show A New Nest, a New Chapter is currently on display at Finley Senior Center in Santa Rosa. After 30 years as an artist and activist in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, Behrens-Brigham has found a new home at Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Housing community.

Behrens-Brigham helped to shape the Hayes Valley neighborhood of shops and restaurants that we know today. She opened her mid-century furniture and art store, Modernology, on Hayes Street in 1990, shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake which damaged the freeway running through that part of town. She was part of the committee that went to CalTrans to lobby for the freeway running to be torn down – a change that led to the revitalization of the entire neighborhood.

“At one point I had keys to all the stores,” says Behrens-Brigham. “If the owner would get sick, they’d call and ask me to open the stores.”

Behrens-Brigham also organized block parties, co-founded the Hayes Valley Art Coalition, and also served as a community board member of Legal Assistance for the Elderly, as a result of her own painful experience.

Madeline Behrens-Brigham

Madeline Behrens-Brigham and her art

“For ten years I was pressured to leave my apartment in San Francisco, the landlords doing everything to get me out of the place,” Behrens-Brigham explains. “I was in a rent controlled apartment, but I’d come home and the manager of the building would invite the sheriff over. My landlord was a church, and for all the words on their letter head, they didn’t seem to care about me.”

With an annual income of $11,000, Behrens-Brigham found herself priced out of even many low-income apartments. She signed up for waiting lists and waited. She got to number 26 on the list for housing in San Francisco. When she asked how long it would be before she got to the top of the list, they told her it would be 11 years.

When the call came from Jennings Court, she and a friend drove up so she could see it for the first time. Though she hadn’t wanted to leave San Francisco, she knew this was her opportunity and took the apartment.

“When she first came here she had dyed blue hair and people were taken aback by that,” says Housing Administrator Sadie Bracy. “It was the talk of the town.”

“Now I have bright pink hair,” Behrens-Brigham notes. “It’s not so much that I wanted bright hair, but [the stylist] needed to teach others in the salon.”

“She’s constantly going places, inviting residents to do things, trying to draw people out and make friends,” says Bracy. “I’m always encouraged to see people move here and continue to have a good life.”

Behrens-Brigham currently serves as the Jennings Court Resident Council president. “My friends in San Francisco, knowing how involved I was politically, are laughing saying, of course we knew you’d become president.”

Getting a one-woman show “was a little bit serendipitous. I didn’t put my name forward. I didn’t believe I would qualify.” Though she offered to share the show with others, Finley Senior Center encouraged her to do a solo show.

Her art show illustrates through mixed media the new life she is building in Santa Rosa. “I went through a period of grieving to have left after 30 years. But now, I can honestly say, things are changing so much in San Francisco it’s not my town any more. The coffee shop is now a caviar bar.

“I’m making a new nest here and new chapter. I truly have done quite a few things in my life that other people consider unusual. I was a personal chef. I’ve done a number of interesting things. Some people have said, ‘When are you going to write a book?’ Well, I can’t write a book; I’m still writing new chapters.”

A New Nest, A New Chapter is on exhibit through February 22, 2018 at Finley Senior Center, located at 2060 W College Avenue in Santa Rosa.