It was through a student internship that Katherine Smith, Covia’s Director of Social Services, became interested in working with older adults. As she worked towards her Bachelor’s of Social Work degree at Cal State Los Angeles, “when it came time to pick an internship and where we’re going to be going, my first choice was to work with kids.” She didn’t get her first choice. Instead, she ended up in a gerontology internship. “I’m like, what is gerontology? But then I fell in love with it.”
So it made sense to her to promote an internship program partnering with Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators to encourage a new generation of social workers.
Covia has been offering internships for the past 5 years, associated with USC’s Davis School of Gerontology and CSULA; this fall, they have launched a new partnership with the Social Work department at San Jose State University.
“Before we have an intern at our sites, we want to make sure we’re going to be a good fit for them and they’ll be a good fit for us,” says Shannon Wetters, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Emerson Village in Pomona. “Are they looking for administrative work? Are they looking for management research? Or are they interested in actually working one on one with older adults? If their goal is to work with older adults, if that’s their true passion, then here at Emerson, they are a perfect fit.”
Interns spend 20 to 24 hours per week working with residents. Due to COVID-19, some of the work is now done remotely, but the Covia team ensures that the interns still get the experience they’re looking for. At Emerson Village, the intern is setting up phone visits with residents, or meet at an appropriate distance from residents in Wetters’ large office while she listens to the interaction, sitting in the hallway.
Pamela Ogawa-Boon, Lead Resident Service Coordinator at Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto, is supervising her first intern this fall. A Masters of Social Work student at San Jose State working toward her certificate in gerontology, Alanah Rosembloom will spend 24 hours per week assisting residents at Lytton Gardens as well as at Shires Memorial Center in San Jose. As a first time mentor, Ogawa-Boon is looking forward to bouncing ideas back and forth with someone eager to be part of the process of serving seniors. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” she says.
The influence of the internship program has reached far beyond Covia’s communities. In addition to the work these interns have done in communities where Covia has Resident Service Coordinator contracts, they have taken what they’ve learned to the communities – and countries – they call home.
Wetters has mentored interns from all over the world, providing experience for students from China, Mexico, and currently South Korea. Wetters shares that her current intern Seungjae Lee, whose family owns a nursing home, “wants to be able to take a lot of the knowledge he’s getting here and take it back to his family. Additionally, he wants to start educating the younger population, teaching them how to prepare their loved ones for the aging process.”
“They’re learning a lot here and they want to take it back there and start something new that they don’t have in their country right now,” says Wetters. She shares that her intern from Mexico five years previously “had no idea if she’d even want to work with older adults but it turned out she really found a passion for it.” As a result, “she was hoping to take this information that she gleaned and take it back to Mexico and start teaching family and friends and then hopefully develop a business from that.”
“A lot of people don’t know about service coordination,” Wetters continues. “I didn’t know about it until I went to the University of La Verne, and there was an informational meeting and I thought, I want to do that.”
As a result of Covia’s internship program, still more people are discovering or deepening their passion and skill for working with older adults.
On Tuesday, December 3rd, Covia Resident Service Coordinators Sara Choi and Chan Park were honored by the County of Los Angeles for their work in promoting and supporting falls prevention in Los Angeles County.
Choi, a Lead Resident Service Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator at Vista Towers in Los Angeles, and Park, a Resident Service Coordinator at Long Beach Lutheran Tower, were nominated by the Los Angeles Falls Prevention Coalition, an organization dedicated to reducing fall risk for older adults through education, advocacy, planning, and community action across Los Angeles County.
This year, Choi translated fall prevention training materials into Korean as well as developing informational flyers. And Park completed his training to become a Matter of Balance Facilitator, allowing him to teach the program to Korean-speaking residents at Pilgrim Towers in Los Angeles.
Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators encourage one another to get more involved in fall prevention programs as part of their role in ensuring residents remain independent and safe in their homes as long as possible. Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services, first introduced Choi to the Coalition by inviting her to attend a meeting, and she’s been involved ever since. And in her turn, Choi invited Park to be trained as a Matter of Balance Facilitator.
“Falls are not part of the aging process,” says Park. Instead, people “need to be educated, take preventive measures and initiate intervention actions!” The Matter of Balance class helps seniors prevent falls before they happen, promoting a better quality of life. Through Choi and Park, Korean-speaking seniors can now participate in the program in their first language.
This recognition from Los Angeles is simply motivation to keep going, Choi and Park explain. “Being recognized was important to me because it opened another door for me as a Coalition member and as an RSC to rethink more ways to prevent falls,” says Choi. Park says, “I look forward to teaching Matter of Balance to many more Korean speaking residents next year!”
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.”
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.”
It’s easy to see the communities that Covia creates through its housing. What’s less known is the community created through its services. Covia provides Resident Service Coordination to 21 senior affordable housing communities throughout California, a service that’s largely invisible despite its impact on people’s lives.
Service coordination is about connecting residents with the public benefits, services and programs that can improve their lives and makes it more likely they will be able to stay longer in their homes.
“A lot of seniors have a lack of resources so we bring them community resources. We play the role of a bridge, connecting our seniors to local community resources,” says Bonnie Chang, Resident Services Coordinator for Lytton Gardens in Palo Alto. These can range from help with insurance or other paperwork to finding a way to pay for an electric scooter to registering residents with a local PACE [Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly], and much more.
Service Coordinators are also on-site resident advocates, says Ericka Battaglia, Lead Resident Services Coordinator at Good Shepherd Homes in Inglewood. “When I say advocate, I mean we support them through whatever they’re going through whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. If we see a resident is not doing well, we provide resources for them so that they’re able to get better and age in place successfully.”
Katherine Smith, Senior Director of Social Services, explains that one of the most important things RSCs do is provide wellness education programs on site. Giving residents information on managing chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or providing fall prevention programs makes it more likely that residents will be able to live at home as long as possible, and prevent the need for invasive and costly medical interventions.
Service Coordinators come from a range of backgrounds, though many have degrees in gerontology and social work; most have Masters Degrees. Most of the Covia RSCs are bilingual or trilingual; among them, they can offer services in Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and ASL and help to bridge the gap between cultural and language barriers.
The advanced degrees in social work also help Service Coordinators speak the same language as community service providers, says Battaglia. “If you’re finding a resource for behavioral health, the process moves a lot swifter if you speak the same professional language.”
Battaglia explains that she works as a liaison between building managers and residents. While the property manager’s job is to maintain the facility and fulfill HUD guidelines, the RSC’s job is to see that the resident is doing well. “For instance,” she says, “my property manager will come to me and say, ‘We have a resident that is not going to pass this inspection because they’re hoarding.’ “Instead of just going to residents with paperwork, notices and warnings, I can go and say, ‘Let’s figure this out together.’” It’s a win-win situation.
Residents win when they receive the services they need. Mary Avina, Resident Service Coordinator at Jennings Court in Santa Rosa, tells the story of a resident who needed significant dental work but couldn’t afford it. “He also desperately needed other medical procedures, but due to the infection in his mouth, he wasn’t able to get the other medical procedures done,” Avina explains. “So I assisted him in find the resources to be able to finance his most needed dental work to be done, and he was able to get that done and then able to get the medical procedure that he desperately needed. He’s very happy now and doing a lot better.”
“A lot of these seniors are – you know, they’re new to aging,” says Battaglia. “We’re trained to make sure their living experience isn’t another hassle for them, isn’t another barrier they have to overcome. We chose this because this is what we love to do, and this is the population that we want to serve.”