The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Watch our video interview with Grant Edelstone here. 

For the general election on November 3rd, the State of California has provided guidance to make it easier – and safer – for registered voters to participate in the election process. In particular, the California Department of Public Health sent a letter to remind Skilled Nursing Facilities “of their obligation to assist and encourage residents to exercise their rights…This includes their right as a citizen to vote safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Grant Edelstone, Senior Director of Risk Management, explains some of the safer options available for all voters. “One thing you can do to stay safe is to vote by mail. Avoid voting in person.” California voters who are already registered to vote have been sent their ballot by mail. They can complete and mail in their ballot or drop them at an official ballot drop box.

Edelstone says that, for those who like to vote in person, there are safety practices that everyone can do. “If you go to a polling station, only go if you feel physically well and you have no respiratory symptoms. Try to avoid the lines by having your documentation and forms prepared in advance. Get familiar with who and what is on your ballot before you arrive at the polling station. Try to go at an off peak time, like mid-morning. Bring your own black pen or an e-stylus, if you have one.”

Edelstone also emphasizes the importance of standard safety practices at polling stations: wearing a cloth face covering or mask; wearing gloves; maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet from others if you’re standing in line; using hand sanitizer frequently before and after touching objects or surfaces; and washing your hands when you get home. “You could consider wearing eye protection like goggles,” he adds, “And if you’re going to stand in a long line maybe bring a portable chair and wear comfortable shoes.”

Residents who may not be able to get to a polling station can ask staff members for assistance in ways that respect their privacy, Edelstone says. “That could be helping them register if they’ve changed their address to update their voter registration if needed.” (The last day to register to vote is Monday, October 19th. Californians who meet the registration requirements can register online at https://registertovote.ca.gov/.) Staff can also help people to go online to get materials in the language that they prefer, or help read the election materials to someone and help someone with alternative voting methods.

Edelstone also shares what staff are not allowed to do. “You can’t influence a resident’s vote. You can’t mark a ballot in any way other than the resident directs you to. You can’t tell anyone how a resident voted. You can’t decide if someone is mentally incompetent to vote. You can’t determine if a resident is eligible to vote. And you can’t vote on their behalf, if you’re unable to reliably determine how the resident wants to vote.”

“So basically you have to listen to the resident, respect their wishes, and do what they are directing you to do, is the easiest way to put that,” Edelstone says.

Fundamentally, Edelstone says, “There’s ways to participate in and support civic activity without having to interact with too many other people and to have your voice heard and make your vote count.”

To learn more about how to vote in the upcoming election in California, go to https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/voting-california.

 

During a recent webinar, Covia leadership gathered with prospective residents to give insight into management and operations at Covia. The webinar panel included Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer; Diana Jamison, Chief Financial Officer; Ron Schaefer, Chief Operating Officer; and Mary Linde, St. Paul’s Towers Executive Director. Katharine Miller of the Covia Foundation moderated the discussion.

The webinar offered prospective residents the opportunity to ask questions about what is currently going on at Covia from a leadership perspective, including COVID-19 preparation, the upcoming affiliation, and adapting to socially distanced activities. Part 1 about Covia’s response to COVID-19 is below. Part 2 about the affiliation can be found here.

Preparation

Covia has approached the COVID-19 pandemic both from a community standpoint as well as system-wide. At the community level, Mary Linde, Executive Director at St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, detailed how St. Paul’s prepared after hearing about COVID-19.

“When I first learned on January 20th that COVID-19 had hit Kirkland [Washington], we immediately brought our leadership team together to say ‘That’s two states up. How do we get ready for this migrating down here?’” Linde notes. “By January 27th, we had restricted outside visitation for travelers who had travelled out of the country to those tier 3 countries. And then progressively, through the month of February and by mid-March, we started sheltering in place.”

When California Governor Gavin Newsom shut down all but essential businesses, Linde says, “we looked at St. Paul’s Towers as though it were itself a village: What are the businesses that operate within this village, which of those are essential, and how do we carry those out safely?” She explains that initially care giving and meals were the essential businesses for St. Paul’s. With in-person dining not permitted, “we said, how do we do takeout at St. Paul’s Towers?” The team wrote guidelines for how to do safe takeout. “We set up two separate takeout staging areas in our community and we designated times for people to come at meals so we wouldn’t have crowding.”

From a system-wide perspective, Covia established a COVID-19 task force that met daily initially and now three times a week. Ron Schaefer, Covia’s Chief Operating Officer, who heads up the task force, explains that its role is to “keep in touch with the health directives that are coming from different locations and provides advisories to our communities to help the Executive Directors make sure that nothing gets by them that they need to know.” The taskforce also provides guidance around the evolving best practices for infection control and testing and ensures that each location has the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed.

Providing Connection

Even with visiting restrictions in place, prospective residents can connect with a community during this time.

“If you are interested in a particular community, we encourage you to reach out and talk to people at that community,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. Community marketing teams are all ready to do a virtual tour that meets your needs, including walking you through the community, creating a special video with your specific interests in mind, and video conferencing.

The marketing team can also connect you “with residents who are living at the community and you can talk to them,” McMullin highlights. Another great option is the community Facebook pages, which post updates and photos about what is going on. They can provide great insight into what events are taking place as well as what precautions the community is taking.

All communities have embraced new ways to stay connected, adapting programming so that residents have a full schedule of activities. Linde shares that St. Paul’s Towers is “doing a lot of activities through the in-house television, like exercises and cooking classes where they deliver ingredients to apartments and residents can follow along on the in-house channel or on Zoom.” The St. Paul’s Towers chaplain has also transitioned her programming to Zoom for book discussions and more. “We do a happy hour on Zoom every Tuesday night,” Linde notes. “It’s such a gift of connection.” St. Paul’s Towers has also created an ice cream truck complete with a signature jingle that delivers ice cream and treats to residents in their apartments. Linde says “If the residents ask for it, we are really trying to find a way to do it.”

Covia also offers connection programs that are accessible to everyone, utilized by residents in Covia communities as well as the wider public. Well Connected provides a full catalog of sessions that are available over the phone or online and are completely free. Sessions cover everything from arts and yoga to armchair travel and wellness. The current catalog of sessions is available here. For connecting one-on-one, Social Call matches older adult participants with volunteers for weekly meetings over the phone. Participants enjoy talking with others from the comfort of their home and these weekly meetings go a long way toward fostering the connections that social distancing has proven are a crucial part of wellness.

Although the challenges of responding to COVID-19 are real, Covia is still finding new and positive ways to make healthy communities, build connections, and stay engaged.

Watch our video interview with Jerry here.

Jerry Brown, Covia’s Senior Director of Affordable Housing, has no idea how he got exposed to COVID-19. “Between March 12 and June 28, I probably saw less than 20 people total the whole time,” he says. Nevertheless, on June 28th, “I got a really bad upset stomach. I thought I probably had food poisoning. And that lasted a straight 48 hours, two days. And then that Sunday, I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I could not get my breath.”

A trip to the emergency room confirmed his suspicions: he had COVID-19.

At first, the doctors thought he could be treated at home. “I thought I was doing fine for seven days. But the next Sunday, the elephant was sitting back on my chest again and just could hardly breathe at all.” After the hospital confirmed he had COVID-19, Jerry was admitted to the hospital to a floor designated for COVID-19 patients. “There were 70 rooms. All of these rooms are individual rooms that have special air filtering so that it doesn’t get into the rooms of the rest of the hospital,” Jerry explained. “I was lucky enough to get the last room that was available that night. I didn’t get in to my room until three o’clock the next morning, but I did get in there, and I felt so much better once the nurses and the CNAs all came around and started taking care of me.”

He thought he would be in the hospital just a couple of days, but ended up staying 10 days as his medical team determined what treatment regimen would work best for him. “They said, ‘We don’t really have a set treatment for this. Everybody is different. So what we’re going to do is just sort of throw things at you over the next few days to see what works for you.’”

Remdesivir proved unsuccessful, and his medical team was unable to get approval from the Federal Government for a plasma treatment. What ultimately worked was a steroid treatment. “The problem with the steroids and the reason that was [treatment] number three is because steroids don’t really work well with people who have diabetes.” Although Jerry’s diabetes is not severe and well controlled with Metformin, “when I started taking the steroids, which made me feel a lot better breathing-wise, my sugar levels went to 700. That’s the reason I had to stay in the hospital, so long. With that sugar level, I could have had a stroke or kidney problems.”

From the outset, his medical team told Jerry he had one goal: Stay out of the ICU! “They actually wrote it on the white board in my hospital room. There were 18 ICU rooms and they were full the whole time I was there. Over that 10 days, seven people died. You would hear that through the nurses and the medical staff and the doctors were very honest.”

Although he’s doing better, Jerry is not fully recovered. “I exercise my lungs. I speak through Zoom with a therapist. But we’ll see how it goes. Right now I’m breathing fine. I can walk about 40 feet before I get tired and need to sit down.”

He also knows that this is still a scary situation – and understands it, having lived through the AIDS crisis of the early 1980’s. “I came to San Francisco in 1979. I got transferred with my job to San Francisco, and it was right at the top of the AIDS crisis. So that was really scary for me. And we all know that that lasted a little while before we figured out that it didn’t need to be as scary as we thought because there were things you could do to make sure that you didn’t get it. I’m sure that’s going to happen with COVID-19 too. But this disease is a little different because it’s in the air. How do we manage that, other than with these masks and watching our hands and social distancing?”

He’s concerned at the number of young people who aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously. “I see so many people that aren’t wearing masks or social distancing, and that’s very scary for me. I saw a lot of that in San Francisco. I live on Nob Hill and the younger people were still playing basketball and not wearing a mask and running without a mask. Hopefully they will get over it, being young and having strong bodies and a good immune system. But there are so many people around them that could get COVID.”

Aside from practicing good infection prevention habits of handwashing, wearing a face covering, and maintaining your distance, Jerry wants to remind people that, whether it’s COVID-19 or any other illness, “you are your own best advocate for your medical care.”

While he was in the hospital, “Every night I would put my questions together about nine o’clock. I would think of everything I wanted to ask them, ‘Can I do this? Can I do that?’ And then I would have my questions ready. It made me feel better too, you know, just getting an answer to things I had questions about.”

He also advises everyone to update your health care and financial directives (such as wills or trusts) “now – not when you are in the hospital bed.” He also recommends purchasing an oximeter – a battery-operated finger device that gives instant reading of your pulse and blood oxygen levels. “One of the first signs of COVID is not enough oxygen in the blood. To be up walking at a natural movement pace the reading should be 90 or above. You can purchase at most drug stores or on line for around $30. I now check mine twice a day.”

The experience has made him reflect on the importance of connections. “I thought about the people from the 1918 flu. How awful. They didn’t have Zoom. They didn’t have the Internet. They didn’t have a way to connect to people. And even though I was in that room alone, I spoke with my family every day. We FaceTimed. I Zoomed friends. People dropped things off. I got cards and I was surprised they let flowers come to the room, and all of that made the experience. I had the feeling that people were caring about me. We figured out ways to connect with each other.”

All of us at Covia wish Jerry and all who are affected by COVID-19 connection and comfort during these difficult times.

Watch our video interview with Jerry here.

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

“Ice cream has always been a big deal at Canterbury Woods,” says Robert Kershner, Director of Dining Services at Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. In 2019, Kershner reports that Canterbury Woods bought over 1200 gallons of ice cream – serving about 5 gallons daily.

“When we were restricted to our homes during the first stages of Shelter-in-Place, it was a natural choice to turn to ice cream to try to ease the stress and concerns on campus,” Kershner says. Since residents were no longer able to get their favorite flavors in the dining room, Kershner and his team turned to favorites like Dove Bars, Good Humor Cones, and It’s Its (ice cream sandwiches from San Francisco) to bring back comforting memories of years ago.

Each Thursday, two teams wearing masks and gloves “walk throughout the campus, knocking on every door to offer some edible comfort,” Kershner explains. Pushing a cart with a cooler attached and ringing a bell as they go through the 6 acre community, the ice cream delivery teams have become an important part of the week for many folks who now refer to Thursdays as “Ice Cream Day”.

Now, the “Good Humor Crew” has become highly popular as they make their rounds. Kershner says that people want to hear the full list of choices, and then sometimes ask for two. “One of our happy customers said it makes everyone feel like a kid again!” shared Mary Lou Kelpe, Life Enrichment Coordinator.

Ice cream has also become an important part of keeping the Webster House community connected. “I thought this would be a nice diversion for the residents to be outside eating a cold ice cream on a summer day,” explains Executive Director Linda Hibbs. “This is the first community social activity for our residents that have been sheltered in place.”

Each Wednesday at 2:00, about one-third of the residents meet outside for ice cream sandwiches, ice pops, or sorbet and an opportunity to meet and catch up while staying a safe distance apart. “The residents have the ability to socialize with their friends which I feel is best for their overall well-being,” says Hibbs. The ice cream is really just the cherry on top.

At Canterbury Woods, Kershner says it’s difficult to find words to describe what made these visits special. “When people open their doors and see who we are, the looks on their faces are very rewarding,” he says. “These folks were missing interaction, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: As of May 31, 2020, all cases of COVID-19 at San Francisco Towers have cleared.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will provide further updates as they become available.

Questions can be emailed to C19info@covia.org.  

Update: April 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

Update: April 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

Update: April 24, 2020

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

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

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

Update: April 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: May 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

Update: May 29, 2020

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

Update: June 3, 2020

San Francisco Towers Executive Director Christina Spence writes, “I’m so happy to report that San Francisco Towers has had no new cases of COVID-19 since May 6. All cases have been cleared since May 31.” 

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

Holy Days

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

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

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

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

Every day

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from the Chaplains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Chaplains at a weekly Zoom meeting.