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News and perspectives from Covia.

All five Covia Communities are among the 21% of U.S. skilled nursing facilities that have been recognized as a Best Nursing Home for 2020-21 by U.S. News & World Report.

The communities received Best Nursing Homes status by achieving a rating of “High Performing,” the highest possible rating, for Short-Term Rehabilitation, Long-Term Care, or both. Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove, St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, and San Francisco Towers all received the recognition for Short Term Rehabilitation. Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto was recognized for its Long Term Care. And Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa received the honor for both Short Term and Long Term care.

U.S. News gives the designation of Best Nursing Home only to those homes that satisfy U.S. News’s assessment of the appropriate use of key services and consistent performance in quality measures. This year, to accompany the new ratings, nursing home profile pages were updated to include a patient safety summary that reflects COVID-19 data alongside other measurements of safety and related advice on choosing a home or facility amidst the pandemic.

“I am so proud of all our Covia teams and their leadership, especially their implementation of the infection prevention processes that resulted in exceptional resident outcomes during this challenging pandemic,” says Cynthia Shelby, Covia’s Regional Director of Quality and Care, RN, RAC-CT.

All of the communities noted the extraordinary care and efforts given by their team members. Max Brodsky, Health Care Administrator at San Francisco Towers, says, “As I make my rounds checking in with the residents staying at the Health Center, one thing I hear over and over is ‘You have the most wonderful staff working here. They are kind, hard-working, and always do their best.’  It’s our culture of respect and integrity, and staff who embrace our philosophy that makes us the best and a five star facility.”

At St. Paul’s Towers, Health Care Administrator Connie Yuen says, “Our staff works from the kindness and love in their hearts. We’ve been told time and time again we do not work with patients, we work with residents that become a part of our family that we love and care for. The staff go above and beyond to connect with residents and take it a step further by providing updates, photos and spontaneous phone calls to give loved ones peace of mind.” Executive Director Mary Linde adds, “We at SPT are delighted to be among the best nursing homes in the country.  But it comes as no surprise because we see the care, and the relationships that drive that care, on a daily basis. I believe the staff in our SPT SNF are, indeed, among the best in the industry.”

Kris Hermanson, Health Care Administrator at Spring Lake Village which was rated as High Performing for both Short Term and Long Term care, says, “It’s satisfying knowing you are giving quality care to our residents who deserve and have earned it!”

Now in its 11th year, the U.S. News Best Nursing Homes ratings and profiles offer comprehensive information about care, safety, health inspections, staffing and more for nearly all of the nation’s 15,000-plus nursing homes. The Best Nursing Homes ratings reflect U.S. News’ exclusive analysis of publicly available data using a methodology defined by U.S. News that evaluates factors that it has determined most greatly impact patient and resident care, safety, and outcomes.   

“U.S. News strives to provide access to information that allows consumers to make educated decisions on all types of care,” said Ben Harder, managing editor and chief of health analysis at U.S. News. “Updating the profiles to include a patient safety summary that highlights COVID-19 data paired with other measures of care arms families, caregivers and patients with the information needed to make a decision that keeps safety at the highest priority.” 

The Best Nursing Home finder features ratings on both long-term and short-term care. The Long-Term Care Rating aims to provide prospective residents who need help with daily activities, and their families, with analysis and information regarding the quality of care provided by nursing homes. The rating includes data on staffing, success in preventing ER visits and pneumonia vaccination rates, among other metrics. The short-term rating incorporates measures of quality including consistency of registered nurse staffing, use of antipsychotic drugs and success in preventing falls.

U.S. News & World Report is the global leader in quality rankings that empower people to make better, more informed decisions about important issues affecting their lives. A digital news and information company focused on Education, Health, Money, Travel, Cars and News USNews.com provides consumer advice, rankings and analysis to serve people making complex decisions throughout all stages of life. More than 40 million people visit USNews.com each month for research and guidance. Founded in 1933, U.S. News is headquartered in Washington, D.C. For more information behind both U.S. News ratings please refer to the FAQ.

As Covia communities and programs navigate the rapidly changing conditions and restrictions this year, we are grateful that we have resilient residents, participants, staff, and leadership that keep our communities moving forward. Challenging circumstances have brought people from across the organization together in new ways, encouraging teamwork and a sense that we truly are all in this together.

The Life Enrichment Directors across Covia Communities have been meeting monthly to share their upcoming plans and find ways to collaborate and share their virtual activities with residents of other communities. Alex Gerasimov, Covia’s Project Manager for resident experience, says, “In this time, our Life Enrichment teams united to support one another and to learn about each other’s best practices on keeping residents and staff engaged and involved in meaningful programs that enhance their health and wellness.”

Residents of Canterbury Woods and Webster House meet together on Zoom for weekly lectures and discussion groups on current events and world travel. Ania Spiering, Life Enrichment Director at Webster House, shares, “Both programs engage residents in conversation, which keeps it lively and interesting. It is wonderful to see people coming together and utilizing the possibilities that technology provides.” The two communities also share musical programs with each other. Every week, a Canterbury Woods resident shares a recorded concert, and in return, Lily Godsoe, the Webster House chaplain, offers a flute and meditation session.

Other communities have taken advantage of the virtual space to invite residents from all communities to join their ongoing events, creating more enrichment opportunities.  St. Paul’s Towers invited residents of the other Covia communities to join its sponsored webinar about water issues facing Northern California, offered as part of the UC Retiree Learning Series.  San Francisco Towers is also opening up its weekly lecture series to all communities. In September, the guest lecturer was Dr. Tammy Duong on dealing with loneliness and depression during the isolation of the pandemic. Spring Lake Village, known for its award-winning active wellness and fitness programs, shared all of its fitness videos with the other Covia communities so all residents can stay active in the comfort of their homes.

*This article was originally posted in the Fall 2020 edition of Community Matters

Residents from St. Paul’s Towers, San Francisco Towers, and Spring Lake Village gathered with the Covia Foundation in August via Zoom to celebrate and raise awareness for the Circle of Friends Resident Assistance Fund. With hors d’oeuvres and special beverages sponsored by Morrison Community Living, friends and neighbors raised a glass to their vibrant communities and the supporters of this important cause. Mary Sharman, a resident at St. Paul’s Towers, says, “The party and delicious treats were an uplifting event. I’m pleased so many residents could join our party and learn about this important fund. I am grateful that our community supports this cause.”

Those being helped by the Circle of Friends fund have an average age of over 90 years, with 40% living with a higher level of care. They have been part of their communities on average for more than 16 years.

“The Circle of Friends is so close to the hearts of our residents,” said Covia Foundation Executive Director Katharine Miller. “We are so grateful for the support of this fund that provides assistance for those in our Life Plan Communities who outlive their resources.”

Covia Foundation rounded out the day’s celebration with a prize drawing. Prizes included personalized dinners from the Executive Chefs, themed gift baskets, and a Google Nest Max Hub, a video smart speaker.

The event immediately showed the effect of its success, with our prize winners reaching out with excitement and gratitude, and many residents making donations online or reaching out to the Foundation with questions about planned gifts and estate gifts. Said one supporter: “This is a great cause for us to get behind because this could happen to any of us.”

*This article was originally posted in the Fall 2020 edition of Community Matters

When the St. Paul’s Towers Resident Council met at the beginning of 2020, Council President Laura Galvin presented the idea of developing resident liaisons to promote connection across different levels of care within the community. This idea kicked off the creation of the Three Levels of Care (TLC) program, which seeks to create well-meaning relationships, increase socialization, and decrease isolation by connecting residents in Independent and Assisted Living.

SPT resident Irene Olson realized that as an Independent Living (IL) resident she didn’t know a great deal about Assisted Living (AL). She found herself asking, “What happens when we move to Assisted Living one day?” Olson was inspired to get involved, developing initiatives such as shared lunches and apartment visits so that IL residents could create lasting relationships with residents in AL.

“TLC is a way to break down silos between the continuum and live together as equals,” notes Connie Yuen, St. Paul’s Towers Assistant Health Care Administrator. “I am so proud of Ms. Olson and the residents who set up such a fantastic program that focuses on inclusion and community building.”

The TLC program is currently paused while sheltering in place but Olson is excited to continue growing the program once shelter in place is done. There are discussions about making the TLC program a permanent committee at St. Paul’s and after working on connecting IL and AL residents, the plan is to “expand to SNF (skilled nursing),” says Olson.

The TLC program shows great promise. Resident volunteers partnered with the Assisted Living Activities Coordinator to get more AL residents involved in community events and to develop relationships one on one.  These volunteers, including Olson, help bring AL residents to dinner, happy hour, concerts, classes, and activities. They even developed a wheelchair brigade, which Olson says was created “to increase participation and socialization.”

Resident volunteers work hard to make sure that the experience is not only fun but also meaningful. Volunteers check in with AL residents, asking what would make the experience meaningful for them and tailoring the program to their needs.  

For Joe, one of the AL residents that Olson worked with at the TLC program’s inception, the focus was on maintaining old friendships and getting to know new residents. Olson set out to make this happen for Joe by bringing him to the main dining room for meals and art classes to see his friends. All of this work helped them “develop such a strong bond over a short time,” notes Olson.

Though the TLC program is currently only at St. Paul’s Towers, Olson hopes that it will inspire “all Covia communities to get more involved at the AL level.” She notes, “It’s so easy to spend time with the resident in their room, play a game together, and find out what they need and how we can achieve something meaningful together. TLC is so easy at SPT. Everything is an elevator ride away so go see someone who is looking forward to spending time with you.”

On July 31, Fitch Ratings announced that Covia once again has been given an A- rating with a stable outlook. Covia first received an A- rating in 2017.

Covia benefits from its diverse operating profile, high occupancy rate, and favorable debt position. According to Fitch’s report, “Along with a sophisticated and centralized management structure, the community’s revenue diversity offsets credit risks relating to operating volatility, competitive pressures and actuarial risk.”

The report also states, “The Stable Rating Outlook reflects Fitch’s expectation that operations will improve over the next year and maintain profitability levels that are in line with Fitch’s ‘A’ category medians.”

“We are on target when it comes to taking care of our residents and employees by having a solid, financially sound organization,” says Mitzi Hyland, Covia’s VP of Finance and Corporate Controller. “Being investment grade says it all about our leadership and staff.”

Covia’s President and CEO Kevin Gerber praised “the entire Covia team for this great outcome in these extraordinary times.”

As well as evaluating Covia’s current financial situation, Fitch took into account Covia’s intention to affiliate with Front Porch, which is rated A by Fitch. “Although the recent announcement of Covia’s affiliation with Front Porch Communities and Services is still pending regulatory approval, if approved, Fitch views the strategic move could further diversify Covia’s revenue base and market reach.”

Fitch Ratings is an international credit rating agency, used as a guide to help lenders and investors evaluate which investments will not default and subsequently yield a solid return. Fitch is one of the top three credit rating agencies internationally, along with Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

Community life at Covia shifted with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of the shelter-in-place orders — residents, staff, and program participants found new ways to stay connected. Group activities and communal dining were put on hold while residents stayed safer at home, but resident resiliency and staff dedication quickly allowed for new realities.

A primary challenge for dining services at each community was shifting from a seated dining room experience to packaging all meals for delivery or take-out. Dining staff rose to the occasion with creativity, experimentation, and flexibility. At Canterbury Woods, residents even volunteered to help coordinate the orders for their neighbors so everyone could get what they wanted. To enhance their regular meal offerings, the San Francisco Towers dining staff offered a weekly door-to-door cart with wine and cheese and fresh produce from the farmer’s market.

At St. Paul’s Towers, a server went out of his way to bring Margaret Hasselman, an SPT resident, part of her meal that had gotten left out of her bag. “Last night after I returned to my apartment from picking up my dinner at the bistro, I heard a knock at my door. It was Roderick! He came up to my 12th floor apartment to bring me crudités that were missing from my bag,” Margaret says. “I still am so delighted that he would do that. Such an act of kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness. ”

At Webster House, Executive Director Linda Hibbs checks in on residents by personally delivering glasses of wine door to door in the evening. At Canterbury Woods, the “Good Humor Crew” was a big hit, with dining staff going door to door delivering ice cream. “It makes me feel like a kid again!” says one happy customer.

Activities directors also had to adapt, and staff and residents alike began embracing the virtual possibilities for group activities. Spring Lake Village, which has a robust wellness program, created a schedule of fitness classes for residents to enjoy via the Zoom online platform, accessed by computer or tablet. A parcourse with exercises to be done outside along the walking path was also created as a way for the residents to get exercise while socially distanced. Musicians who would typically perform for an audience in the Spring Lake Village Montgomery Center recorded concerts to be enjoyed online. Residents also staged impromptu concerts in courtyards for neighbors to enjoy from their windows and doorways.

At St. Paul’s Towers, the program team organized a socially distanced virtual happy hour where residents visited the lounge to pick up a glass of wine, sparkling water, or portioned ingredients to make their own cocktail of the day. Residents took their beverages back to their apartments and tuned into a Zoom session to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.

Social distancing may mean that our residents and staff can’t be physically close, but fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to connect with each other and the outside world while staying safe at home.

*This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of Community Matters

As the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic set in, the healthcare staff at each Life Plan Community and at Support Services rose to the occasion and continued to do what they do best: provide excellent care to our residents. Covia has always had strong health care delivery and infection control procedures, but the pandemic has made the planning and training required to maintain safety more evident.

At Spring Lake Village, Jodi Arnheiter, RN and Director of Staff Development, and Sherry Taylor, RN and Director of Nursing, have led the local infection control response. Jodi, who has worked at Spring Lake Village for over 10 years, was trained by the Association for Professional Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) — the leading professional association for infection control specialists. The training includes epidemiology, microbiology, science-based infection prevention practices, and implementation of practices in a long-term care setting.

“We are so lucky to have Jodi on our staff. From the first day, she was providing daily guidance on what we had to do to be prepared,” reports SLV Wellness Director Diane Waltz. Jodi communicates frequently with the Sonoma County Public Health Department on any new data regarding the current situation, as well as reviewing the updates from CDC and the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine (CALTCM). Jodi’s colleagues praise her calm, reassuring presentation of the facts and actions that need to be taken.

In Oakland, Lisa Hiltbrand, the daughter of Helen Hiltbrand, a resident in the healthcare center at St. Paul’s Towers, expressed her gratitude for the staff, whose compassion and care for their residents was especially important during a time when family members had to stay at a distance. “Since the beginning of the restrictions due to the virus, their extreme dedication and professionalism have been exemplary. The nurses and staff have gone to extraordinary lengths to support my mother. Ranka and the other nurses have organized regular Zoom meetings for my siblings and me,” Lisa says. “It is such a relief to see our mother when we cannot be physically with her. These extra steps are even more spectacular as they’re taken in a time when the staff’s workload has been increased. I know they are taking extra time for interacting with residents due to the lack of visitors,” she says.

At Webster House Health Center, Executive Director Linda Hibbs shared her gratitude for her staff’s hard work: “I’m impressed with the dedication and compassion you have demonstrated to our residents, families, and staff. This has been a challenging time with many of you anxious about the COVID-19 virus implication and the economic future of family members. Thank you for your professionalism and willingness to be a team of heroes! The care you show for our residents makes Webster House such a great community.”

Organization-wide, the COVID-19 response is led by a task force of nine executive leaders representing Operations, Life Plan Communities, Affordable Communities, Clinical Care, Human Resources, IT, Community Services, and Communications. Grant Edelstone, Covia’s Senior Director of Risk Management, and Cynthia Shelby, RN and Regional Director of Quality and Care, are critical team members, providing guidance for local staff on best practices for infection control and compliance with local and state regulations.

As conditions changed rapidly, Grant’s support to track and implement changing mandates and rules was invaluable. St. Paul’s Towers Executive Director Mary Linde, who is also a nurse by background, says, “I am so grateful that Grant is on our team, especially right now with the onslaught of information coming from multiple regulatory agencies. Grant ensures that we all get the information and sends it to us with a concise recap. He also finds the information for us when we are scrambling to meet the demands of our situation. And he does all of this with patience and kindness.”

For the past three years, Cynthia Shelby has worked across Covia, providing support to the six health care centers at Covia Communities. 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.

“A key part of our mission is the continuum of care and how the full team helps residents transition through changes,” says Covia President and CEO Kevin Gerber. “The continuum of care is also about the whole person — not just thinking about their physical needs, but all of their needs.”

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 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.

“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.”

*This article was originally posted in the Summer 2020 edition of Community Matters

What prompts someone to consider moving to a retirement community – and what is it really like to live there? More than 150 prospective residents recently joined together on a Zoom call to hear from a panel of Covia community residents about their choice of community living.

“When my husband died, I was living alone in a new home that we had just remodeled. I was really alone,” said Sharon, a resident of Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa. “Friends encouraged me to come and visit the community and I found it so welcoming. There are so many things to do and people to see that it’s enriched my life so deeply.”

Many echoed the importance of engagement with others as a major plus of community living.

“I wanted to live near my children but wanted to be with peers, in a vibrant community,” said Judy, a San Francisco Towers resident.

“There’s a welcoming committee that arranged for us to meet others over meals,” said Chuck, a resident of St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “It’s one way we started to understand the community. We have relationships with people we met when we first moved in.”

The supportive continuum of care was another key priority in evaluating a move to a community.

“One alternative for people is to stay at home and become increasingly incapacitated, and have to have family or someone hired to take care of you. The other alternative is a community with the opportunity to see people who model that transition — from being able to do so many things on your own to when you’re not able to do so much,” said Raymond, a resident of Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. “It’s the last phase we don’t tend to think about for ourselves. That’s part of life. In a community like this, you have support and some role models that you wouldn’t have if you were on your own.”

Judy added that “With a background in critical care nursing, I very carefully evaluated the health care continuum. I’m very impressed with the way that Covia has really observed to the fullest all of the CDC recommendations during the pandemic.”

Staffing levels and quality of service in a community were a key criteria for many residents.

“Staff have been wonderful, especially during the pandemic. And we have wonderful resident health services staff; they’ve all bent over backwards to make life easier for us,” said Judy. “At first my family was very concerned when they saw the news [about the pandemic in congregate living] but you want to be in a place that is stringent and careful. My family has been very reassured by the staff competency and quality.”

Sharon commented that she appreciates that staff get to know residents individually. “The staff really take pride in the work they’re doing. The dining staff we see every day and each of more than 400 residents is greeted by name,” she said. “They are exceptionally competent. It’s an amazing variety of food. It’s one of the most nurturing places one could be, even more so in an epidemic.”

In addition to health care support, a community of peers and friends, and quality staff, every individual has unique priorities – and residents stressed the importance of knowing your own personal priorities.

“Take stock of the things you need and look at places through that lens,” advised Katie from Canterbury Woods. “I came and stayed overnight and discovered  the distant sound of people moving about was reassuring to me.”

“For us, most of the places we looked at were remote and we wanted to be able to go out and get a cup of coffee on our own,” noted Richard.

Sharon, who like many residents retired from a demanding professional career, recommended considering how you might spend your time.  “Look at the activities, performances and events that are available,” she advised. “Even during the pandemic, we have closed-circuit TV with exercise classes and performances and classes. I think it’s important to look at the daily life options you have.”

“We had criteria for physical facilities and architecture and we had geographic criteria,” said Peggy from Canterbury Woods. “But when we have lunch with people who are looking at our community as an option, my main message is ‘every retirement community has a culture, a people culture, that’s unique.’ I encourage people to have as much contact with people who live in a community and stay at the place for a couple of days so you can uncover who people are.”

All the residents on the panel agreed that it’s important to understand your personal priorities, do your research and visit communities of interest.

One of the residents summarized the process, saying, “I did my homework and so I was ready when it was time to make the choice.”

When shelter-in-place orders made it impossible for residents at St. Paul’s Towers to participate in the Black Lives Matter protests taking place around their Oakland community, resident Jean E. Taylor decided to share with her fellow residents an idea she had in the middle of the night. “My idea: we show support for the protesters by staging our own miniprotest.”

The idea grew. “Many of us have been feeling rather helpless, given that it is not safe for us individually to participate in protest marches,” Taylor notes. “But there has been a coalescence around the idea of a balcony protest here at SPT.”

Residents began making posters, including large letters to spell out “Black Lives Matter” to hang along one side of the high rise. On Wednesday, June 10, a number of residents gathered on their balconies on the Bay Street side of the building at 5:00 to cheer, bang pots and pans, hit gongs, and unveil their posters as well as a large BLM banner, unveiled along the top of the building.

Spring Lake Village residents also planned their own Black Lives Matter march around the perimeter of their Santa Rosa campus. Resident Council Chair John Buckstead led off the march. “The work of America’s founders and our ancestors, of Jefferson and Madison and Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King is not finished,” he told the close to 100 residents who had gathered to participate. “This is a reminder that their work is our work. We’re still here. We’re still in. You were probably doing this 50 years ago. We need to resume.”

Although protests are not a typical part of community life, the communities’ administration and Covia’s leadership recognize the resident-led efforts to exercise their rights to self-expression. “With a diversity of views in each community, it was important to consider those rights in light of Covia’s fundamental values of respect, civility in our differences, and treating one another with dignity – a difficult balancing act,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. “I believe residents were able to express their honest opinions in a respectful way.”

Along with public protests, communities also planned vigils with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to remember the death of George Floyd and others. At Webster House, Chaplain Lily Godsoe and Executive Director Linda Hibbs joined staff from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation who observed the time of silence as a part of their organization’s response to the tragedy. “We joined them, and then decided we wanted to do the same ritual with our staff,” Godsoe says. About 15 people participated. “It was very moving for us to gather as we did in the lobby of the Health Center to honor the collective grief we were all feeling.”

Residents at St. Paul’s Towers also requested a vigil – which was joined by residents and staff at other communities and at Support Services. SPT’s chaplain Meredith Cahn, opened the vigil, saying, “We are heart-broken, we are in pain. And, as members of the Covia community, we are not in a position to march with the marchers, as we are protecting each other from COVID-19, as members of the most vulnerable group, or staff to you. So this is one of the ways we are showing support and proclaiming that we know that Black Lives Matter.” SPT resident Patrick O’Halloran provided centering thoughts before participants entered into almost 9 minutes of silence.

St. Paul’s Towers resident Jean Taylor noted how many people were involved in these events “from helping draft emails, making and distributing flyers, making the giant letters of our vertical banner, organizing and taking pictures of people with their posters, distributing materials for posters, doing the banner unfurling, etc., etc.” Although the media has often represented Black Lives Matter as a movement primarily of young people, “We say: don’t forget us old folks,” says Taylor. “We too have energy. We also believe in what we’re doing, and we’re not going to let up either.”