The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Each year, Covia sends candidates to LeadingAge California’s EMERGE program to build and develop their capacity for leadership and to help them network with other leaders in the Aging Services field. This May, Rosa Torres, Human Resources Manager for Los Gatos Meadows, and Cammille Lo-Li, Regional Social Services Manager for Covia Affordable Communities, are graduating as members of the class of 2019, and Maggie Youssef, Health Care Administrator at St. Paul’s Towers, will join the class of 2020.

“EMERGE is a year-long program to help candidates reach their potential in their organization to successfully lead innovative programming within their organizations,” explains Jerry Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, who helped establish the statewide program and has served as a coach for the past four years.

Brown explains that EMERGE fellows “can be any level of employee. It doesn’t have to be a CEO. It can be a maintenance person or a nurse, which I think is the wonderful thing about it. The supervisor sees the value that you have as a leader – that you can be a leader, not necessarily in the current job you have, but for the organization in some way.”

Lo-li first heard about the program while working at another organization in 2011. “I got that opportunity back then when I was first on the job as a Resident Service Coordinator. But I put it on hold and things kept holding me back [from participating]. So I’m glad that as soon as I was employed by Covia, I got a call saying, ‘Hey, Cammille, we want you to participate.’”

Youssef explains, “I applied for the EMERGE program so that I can professionally grow as a leader, build long lasting professional relationships with other leaders from other organizations and network with other fellow EMERGE members.” For Youssef, “Although I’ve worked in the Long term Care industry the last 25 years, I believe that there is so much more to learn. It is an ever evolving industry. The EMERGE program can help me improve on the skills I already possess and develop other skills I need to become a better leader in the industry.”

Participants in the program meet in person four times a year, participating in site visits at LeadingAge California member communities. They read and discuss four books on leadership development, and participate in monthly team calls between sessions. Each participant also creates an Action Learning Plan, or ALP, to apply what they have learned and bring it back to their workplace.

“It’s a training to help you lead, but it’s not only that,” says Torres. “I feel that this year has helped me to understand people in all their diversity, how to deal with them, how to communicate, how to address employees properly.”

Torres’ ALP involved building a more inclusive culture in her community. “The first thing I did was instead of saying ‘Staff Meeting,’ I changed it to ‘Team Meeting.’ And you know, believe it or not, that Team word made a big difference for some employees. I had people from the Environmental Services department tell me that this was the first time that somebody saw them as part of a team.”

Lo-li is developing a social work mentorship program “by shadowing current employees in different positions, getting their interest in the aging services field.”

The ALPs are not just theoretical projects, but actually get carried out and have an impact on the participants’ organizations. A previous EMERGE fellow implemented Covia’s comprehensive, organization-wide online Accounts Payable system as her ALP.

In addition to what participants bring back to their organizations, “I got really good friends and I appreciate the training because of that,” says Torres. “You learn a lot of things about yourself, about your job, about the people around you.”

As a coach, Brown says, “I like hearing everybody’s personal stories. I like seeing the best practices when we go visit sites. There’s some really wonderful programs out there, innovative things. Covia has some of the most innovative programs within the whole membership of LeadingAge California. We should be very proud of that.”

“I’m really glad that Covia continues to support the program and that Cammille and Rosa both were able to get through the program this year and graduate, and I hope that they encourage others to do so too,” says Brown. “We have to remember that it’s not a cheap program. You are getting the support of your supervisor because you’re not at work. Other people have to fill in for you while you’re away. And so Covia’s really making an investment in your leadership, allowing this education. You’re being honored, I would say.”

“I wish that every employee, every colleague would get to attend, just to get the experience of it,” says Lo-li. “It’s an adventure ride.”

When Mary Linde, Executive Director of St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, plans development programs for her senior leadership team, “I try to do things that aren’t just about reading and discussing a book,’” she says. In January that led her to bring her team to the LeadingAge California offices in Sacramento.

“It’s typically nurses and licensed administrators who go to the conferences,” Linde observes. “But as I look at my leadership, I see so much talent, and yet they don’t get out of the community and network, partly because they don’t know all the opportunities that exist, and also because they don’t realize they can. As part of our leadership training, I really wanted to connect our team to LeadingAge so that they knew, first of all, the available resources and; secondly, the networking pathways open to them; and finally, that Covia supports them serving outside of our community.”

Linde arranged for her team to travel to LeadingAge California’s Sacramento offices. “When we got there, the LeadingAge staff didn’t just show up,” she says. “They had gift bags for all of us. They had an agenda. They had a folder with handouts for us. They were so excited.”

LeadingAge California President and CEO Jeannee Parker Martin agrees. “Their morning visit gave us an opportunity to learn more about the needs of each team member from a provider perspective, and also an opportunity for them to learn more about the myriad policy, committee, educational and resource opportunities from LeadingAge California staff. It was exciting to have the full team take a day away to meet with us, and we look forward to engaging with them on committees and other activities ahead.”

Sheba Jenness, St. Paul’s Director of Human Resources, is one of the team with a deeper investment in the work of LeadingAge after offering to serve on a committee dedicated to HR issues. Jenness has worked in Aging Services for 10 years, but before going to the LeadingAge offices, she admits she knew practically nothing about the organization. “It was very abstract,” she says. “I knew it existed. I didn’t know how much they advocate on so many different levels. They’re really invested in trying to find different ways to make sure that California is serving older people in a caring, conscientious way.” As part of the HR Group, Jenness will be working with a team doing a wage comparison survey this summer.

Linde is very active in LeadingAge California, serving as an EMERGE Leadership Development Program coach as well as participating as a member of two committees: the Service Excellence Committee and the Member Engagement Committee. As part of the Member Engagement Committee, Linde is encouraging people to participate in LeadingAge’s Age On, Rage On campaign, created to demonstrate to legislators how many people value services for older adults. “It’s not just for us as staff,” she explains. “It’s to get our residents involved so we really bring the issues of aging services to the forefront to our legislators, to our colleagues – everywhere – so that older people and their issues are heard.”

The experience of visiting the LeadingAge office changed Jenness’ perception of the organization. “I thought LeadingAge was a big machine, and it’s not. It’s a lot more hands-on and one-on-one than I expected.”

Linde concurs. “This isn’t some big corporate office collecting dues and not doing anything. These are people who are really committed to aging services and are working on our behalf every day so that we can get continuing education credits and get regulatory information broken down to us in language we understand quickly. And they’re also really lobbying on our behalf for dollars and for services for seniors.”

The invitation to visit is open to other senior communities, and Linde hopes they will take advantage. “I really believe that proverb that says, ‘Iron sharpens iron, so we sharpen one another.’ I believe we need to be truly rubbing shoulders to sharpen each other.”

Parker Martin says, “Mary Linde showed great leadership cultivation by bringing her full management team to LeadingAge California’s office in Sacramento. It offered not only insights into LeadingAge California, but team-building away from their community. We hope to host other communities in the near future, and look forward to deeper engagement at all levels of the organization. LeadingAge California is your association, and we are here to serve in whatever way possible.”

In January, Webster House welcomed Mehrad “Rod” Moshiri as its new executive director. He’s spent his first month getting to know the community, both staff and residents.

“The first thing that I think I noticed about Webster House is that people care,” he says. “From the line staff to upper management, everybody cares about the residents who live here, which is great. Everything else can be learned. People caring is something you either have it or you don’t.”

After emigrating to the Bay Area from Iran in 1988 at the age of 15, Rod attended San Jose State University, getting a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy. His first job was as an Occupational Therapist in a Skilled Nursing Facility in Alameda. After that, he moved to San Francisco where he worked first as a rehabilitation manager, then became a case manager and director of case management while at the same time earning his MBA. Meanwhile, he learned of an opportunity to enter an Administrator in Training program: “I applied, I got in, and got my Masters and became an Administrator at the same time.” After getting his Administrator’s license and MBA, Rod managed Skilled Nursing Facilities for about 16 years.

Because Rod’s prior experience has mostly been as the administrator of places like Webster House Health Center, one of his first goals is to get more exposure to the Independent Living side of the community. In his short time here so far, he’s visited the dining committee, the financial study group, and presented at his first Fireside Chat – an all-community update that happens monthly – as well as getting to know individual residents.

“We have the greatest residents,” he says. “They’re very welcoming. They’re very casual. They’re more than happy to converse with people that are interested and letting them know why they’re here,” such as the fact that they can walk half a block to get to downtown Palo Alto.

His first impression of Webster House Health Center, which provides rehabilitation services and skilled nursing, is that “for the size of the health center, it’s a smooth running operation. And that’s typically not achievable unless you have competent people in place. Room for improvement? Always. But looking at it from a global perspective, it’s a smooth-running operation.”

“Because I have the background and experience in the health center side, I would confidently tell people that the care they will receive here is by far much better than 85-90 percent of the skilled nursing facilities in the area,” he says.

Rod was drawn to the position because Webster House and Covia have a good reputation as an employer in the area of senior living. The Assistant Executive Director of St. Paul’s Towers, Maggie Youssef, and Rod had worked together previously and “she spoke very highly of the company,” Rod says. “I can tell you that everyone I have met so far has been great. And I do get emails saying, ‘Everything OK? Do you need anything?’ Knowing that I’m newer to the position, knowing that I may need something, they’re taking the first step to reach out to me before I reach out to them, which is wonderful.”

Being the Executive Director of a Life Plan Community is not an easy role to fill. “You need to be able to wear multiple hats. You need to be able to think on your feet. You need to be able to put out fires right away. And you need to be able to remember that you’re dealing with people’s lives,” Rod says. “It is a tough business. Different personalities, different challenges, different situations. That’s what’s tough about it.”

At the same time, “You can make a difference in people’s lives and well-being,” Rod notes. “What I like about it is that there are no two days that are the same. It never gets boring.”

Especially with so many interesting people around. “I love and welcome conversations. I live by the fact that I have an open-door policy. I invite people to come in and say hi to me in my office. I’m enjoying every day that I’m here and I’m learning a lot.”