The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

This essay by Webster House resident Jim Lyons originally appeared in the December 2018 Webster House Newsletter.

It is money grubbing time again. Buy, buy, buy, and then buy more. For those of us who stress about what to buy, discombobulation can smash our frames of mind. Mettle is challenged. Yet it need not be that way. Here are some ways of giving that are guaranteed to please and leave your purse or wallet untouched. Rank and randy commercialism be damned! Embrace the wonders of giving simply. Curiously they are worth more than money could ever buy. They are fun for you too.

First. Make two phone calls per day to friends or family that you have not spoken with for a long time. This is personal and profound. It is not a mass-produced card. The personal touch is rarely practiced in this era of electronic babble. You too will be enveloped in the warmth and surprise of the call. If you don’t know the person’s phone number, it is easy to find and free. Ask me and I’ll teach you how to do it.

Second. Write three short hand-written notes daily for 30 days. The message need not be long. Just one sentence or phrase – just like on the $2 cards. Example: “I appreciate hearing your cheerful voice when I call. Thanks.” It’s the personal touch that does the trick. Such touches are scarce these days. A written note takes a minute or so to write. By the end of 30 days you will have brought some warmth into the lives of nearly 100 people! That’s a quiet antidote to the current climate where insults, blame saying, arrogance, and egotism seem to flourish unchallenged.

Third. Here’s some gifts for close friends and family. Write a simple story about an earlier experience, perhaps shared or perhaps not. Each of our apartments is full of things with stories. I’ve given some in my family treasured seasonal decorations along with stories about what our family was like when we used the decoration. I described some of the traditions and the circumstances of that earlier time. Scooter wrote a story about her family and the world during the year before each of her kids was born. Whew! What a treasure.

Think simple giving. That may just be our way to put the human spirit back into the holidays and to penetrate those thick bastions of religious traditions and beliefs.

This is a season when many faiths celebrate the good in us all. A leader of the Hasidic Jews observed: “Everyday life is hallowed, and each of us is responsible for the bit of existence that has been entrusted to our care.” Let’s keep the traditions of giving centered on people.

This essay by Chaplain Jacquie Robb was originally published in the Spring Lake Village newsletter.

We talk a lot about community here at Spring Lake Village. The conversations are usually about joining the community. . .what it’s like to eat with others in the dining room, how to navigate the programs and events. It’s only later, after residents have been here a while, that I hear about the heart of community rather than the logistics.

Most communities form around an intention, from the ancient spiritual communities of many faith traditions – the monasteries of Christians and Buddhists, the Hindu ashrams – to the 60s communes and the modern eco-villages. It got me wondering if we hold a common intention here at Spring Lake Village.

When I ask people why they moved here, what I hear most often is “so I won’t be a burden to my children,” or “so there will be people to take care of me.” Seldom do I hear anyone say that their primary motive for moving here is to be part of a community. It seems almost an unintended consequence of their motives.

And yet, here we are – all 450+ residents and over 250 staff – living and working together. How might we refine our intention in living here to develop more of a sense of community, of “being in it together?”

This takes time. We don’t know how this community works on us until we’ve lived here for a while. Many of those who evacuated last year returned with a renewed sense of community. Did this fade over time for you or did it grow? Did you make new friends, deepen the friendships you had?

Maybe we don’t know until we’ve lived here for a while how we will grow into community. I see so many residents find a renewed purpose, rejoicing that being retired doesn’t mean retiring; living into a growing understanding that a sense of true community, like true friendship, means thinking about what’s good for “us” and not just me.

Maybe we can’t know until we’ve lived here for a while the joys and challenges and ultimately the great freedom inherent in interdependence.

Many of us have helped our children’s schools, our neighborhoods or towns before coming here, but it takes a while to learn how we can serve this type of community. Planning movies and concerts, joining a committee, visiting those who need a bit of company are all manifestations of being of service. But there’s also an inner attitude that I hear expressed by so many of us – one of gratitude. Gratitude for being cared for by staff, gratitude for feeling safely held through the many transitions we face at this age. Gratitude for the company we share, on this sacred journey through life. I suggest that gratitude expressed and shared is in itself an incredible and enriching service for those offering and those receiving the thanks.

This month, as we celebrate all we are thankful for, we can open ourselves even further to the gratitude of those who make up this community. The axiom “it takes a village” becomes ever clearer as we settle into living here. And the longer we’re here, it seems our community’s intention might best be expressed by our gratitude and service.

Kevin Gerber and Doug Pace

Kevin Gerber and Doug Pace

On Tuesday, October 30th, Kevin Gerber, Covia’s President and CEO, along with Doug Pace, Director of Mission Partnerships for the Alzheimer’s Association, welcomed LeadingAge members to the Inclusion Reception, an event at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo in Philadelphia. Covia was one of the Signature Donors for the event. 

Kevin – Good evening and welcome to the City of Brotherly Love and to LeadingAge’s Inclusion Reception. My name is Kevin Gerber and I’m the president and CEO of Covia, one of the proud sponsors of tonight’s event.
Doug  – And I’m Doug Pace, Director of Mission Partnerships for the Alzheimer’s Association, also one of the proud sponsors this evening.

Thanks to Jerry Brown’s perseverance and advocacy, the first Inclusion Reception occurred when AAHSA, as LeadingAge was then known, held its annual meeting in San Francisco in 2006. Back then, many members never had even heard the term LGBT. Now, we’re hearing it from the podium at the plenary sessions. Then, there were no sessions dedicated to LGBT seniors. This year, we have workshops on preventing elder abuse and person-centered care specifically focused on LGBT seniors.

We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. Only recently we saw the news of a same-sex couple who were refused entry into a senior living community because of their relationship. We still hear of LGBT seniors who decide to leave communities due to the homophobia of their neighbors. We know of friends and colleagues in this industry who still to this day feel they must hide their authentic selves in the place where they work. And many of the gains that we have made as a society seem vulnerable to reversal.

And so, although we’re here tonight to celebrate and enjoy one another, let’s not forget that this is a Party with a Purpose. We can’t rest and say our work is done. In her keynote address on Sunday, Frances Frei said, “You can’t argue for inclusion for one without arguing for inclusion for all.” We need to carry this spirit of inclusion with us to our communities and to our industry, for LGBT persons, and for everyone. After the party is over, let’s go back to our communities and our industry, speaking up for the inclusion of all and working to ensure that the differences among us are not merely tolerated, but welcomed and celebrated.

On Thursday, October 18th, residents and staff throughout Covia participated in the Great ShakeOut, an earthquake safety drill. From Santa Rosa to Southern California, Covia took time to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” and then gathered to review and reflect.

“An earthquake drill like the Great ShakeOut is an example of staff and residents increasing their safety awareness by practicing what they have learned,” says Grant Edelstone, Senior Director of Risk Management. “When a person drops, covers and holds on and then responds to a simulated fire or burst pipe or power outage, they increase their readiness for an actual earthquake.”

Even before the event, people were getting prepared. Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators working in Senior Affordable Housing communities throughout California assisted Housing Administrators with a pre-drill information meeting. Topics discussed included an explanation of the Great Shakeout and what was to be expected as well as evacuation options and routes. San Francisco Towers offered an Emergency Preparedness Department Update in advance of the drill and invited residents to prepare in advance by scouting out the safest place to be in their apartment in case of an earthquake.

San Francisco Towers, which was built after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, has participated in the drill for years. Executive Director Christina Spence says, “We participate so residents and staff are prepared for the likely event of an earthquake that impacts our community.” The drill at the Towers involved more than Covia staff and residents, Spence reports. “Our California Department of Public Health Life Safety surveyor showed up right at 10:18. She ‘dropped, covered and held’ right along with us!”

Sadie Bracy, Housing Administrator at Jennings Court in Santa Rosa says, “We made noise with pots and pans and flickered the lights to simulate an earthquake. Two residents actually got on the floor under the table! Then we talked about the potential impacts of an earthquake afterword. We also talked about the safety of the building and installing the seismic gas shut off valve for more safety of Jennings Court.”

At Support Services, Covia’s administrative offices in Walnut Creek, an announcement over the PA alerted everyone in the building to the start of the drill. Afterwards, staff received a demo on go-bags and the locations of safety equipment and exits. “Last year during the fire [in Santa Rosa], I heard more than one resident say they’d been told to prepare a go-bag, but they didn’t think they’d actually need it,” says Laura Darling, a member of the Covia Safety Committee. “You don’t know you’ll need it until you do.”

Covia also prepared for the safety of seniors who would be unable to move themselves in the case of an emergency. At Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto, everyone participated in the drill. “All 3 floors participated along with vendors and home health agencies in the community during the drill. We had families and volunteers participating too,” says Assistant Executive Director Linda Hibbs. “I was stationed on 4th floor and the staff actively participated and moved the residents to a safe location.”

Hibbs continues, “After the drill was over we discussed why we have drills, what to do in a drill and how did the staff and residents think the drill had gone. The residents said thank you to the staff for practicing the drill and including them too. A few residents said they were happy that Webster House cared enough about them to practice if an earthquake happened and included residents in the drill.”

These drills are valuable preparation, Edelstone explains. “When there is a real earthquake, staff may react faster without thinking because of their practice. It can help them whether at home, work or traveling. Similarly, regular fire, disaster, active shooter and other drills increase safety readiness.”

And drills are just one part of building a culture of safety at Covia. “Covia has a commitment to safety in all levels of the organization,” says Edelstone. “Covia promotes a safety culture. This culture of safety’s goal is to achieve consistently safe operations that minimized adverse events. It represents a blame-free environment where everyone is able to report mistakes or errors or near misses or safety hazards, without fear of reprimand or punishment. A culture of safety encourages staff collaboration to solve safety problems. It strives to prevent or reduce errors and improve overall quality.”

Sadie Bracy at Jennings Court says, “A culture of safety means we anticipate that there will be an emergency at one point and we prepare ahead of time for it. That we take keeping our residents safe very seriously. And that we are constantly trying to improve our emergency responses.”

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/.

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.”

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.

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Creative Aging Symposium

Covia’s second annual Creative Aging Symposium will take place January 23rd.

For more details, click here.