The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

Los Gatos Meadows announced today that, after reviewing the findings of a rigorous facilities assessment, it will begin the process of closing the senior living community, concluding that continuing operations in their present form is too great a safety risk for residents and employees.

“Providing quality care and a safe and pleasant community is our core commitment to our residents,” said Chris Ichien, Executive Director of Los Gatos Meadows. “Because of risk factors uncovered during a recent independent facilities assessment of Los Gatos Meadows – particularly the increased likelihood of a fire disaster that we cannot mitigate – we have concluded that we must begin the closure process immediately.”

In 2018, Los Gatos Meadows’ parent company, Covia, retained an independent firm to assess Los Gatos Meadows’ facilities and what would be required to keep the buildings safe and operational. Covia believed the findings would help them determine what improvements would be required to ensure both the safety of residents and employees and that residents could continue receiving excellent services and care.

“Through the facilities assessment, we learned the now outdated safety standards used in Los Gatos Meadows’ construction almost 50 years ago pose a high risk today,” said Kevin Gerber, President and CEO of Covia. “The risks this assessment uncovered, while not imminent, when taken all together are so significant that we concluded that we must close Los Gatos Meadows.”

Of the numerous categories reviewed during the assessment, more than a quarter were found to pose a significant risk, including some that materially impact the operations of the community, and even more that pose a high risk of injury to residents. Those of most concern involve fire safety, and particularly the elevated risk of fire starting within existing structures, accompanied by compromised accessibility for fire response services.

The closure date is not yet final, but Covia has tentatively proposed the complete closure to occur September 30, 2019. California law requires a minimum 120-day notice for the closure of any senior living property. Covia is working on plans that would extend that timeframe to give its residents additional time to secure new accommodations with comparable services and care.

“We know this decision will have significant impacts on our residents, their families, our employees and our community,” Ichien said. “We will do everything in our power to ensure the transition is thoughtful and as smooth as possible.”

Covia has pledged to work with each resident and their family on an individual basis to develop a transition plan tailored to the resident’s needs. Covia is committed to finding an alternative residence within another Covia community or with a community that can provide residents with comparable services and care and is working to address the financial impact to residents caused by the move.

Covia is also committed to supporting employees to ensure their transition from Los Gatos Meadows is as easy as possible, including providing severance packages and job search assistance. Covia will continue to operate El Sombroso Oaks in Los Gatos.

“We care for each and every one of our residents and employees and understand the concern and anxiety this news may cause them,” Ichien said. “Please be assured that we are doing, and will do, everything we can to take care of them during this transition as our commitment to them has not wavered.”

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.”