The week of January 11th kicked off the start of vaccine clinics at Covia communities, starting on January 12th at San Francisco Towers and following later in the week at Canterbury Woods and St. Paul’s Towers.
“When the long awaited day finally arrived, it really seemed to fly by in a flurry of activity,” says Christina Spence, San Francisco Towers Executive Director. “We were getting people their vaccines, having them monitored, and then sending them on their way.” Over 636 members of the Towers community have signed up to get vaccinated over the course of the three vaccine clinics.
“Staff and residents alike were so grateful and the atmosphere was full of hope,” notes Spence. This excitement was covered by local news stations, including CBSN Bay Area and KPIX-CBS, who were onsite to document the experience.
Friday January 15th saw clinics at both St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland and Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. Connie Yuen, Assistant Executive Director at St. Paul’s Towers, highlights that at the Towers clinic “there was a nice steady flow and we were able to avoid long lines and wait times.” 100% of St. Paul’s Towers residents participated in the first clinic with 60% of staff participating as well. “More staff signed up for the 2nd round and about a dozen staff members have already received their vaccine,” notes Yuen.
Residents, staff, and contractors were excited and hopeful about getting the vaccine and Yuen says that even though “a few people were nervous, they understood this is the step we need to take if we want to go back to a ‘normal’ way of life.” Yuen feels “very fortunate to be given the opportunity to take the vaccine early on” as it brings hope for the future.
Spirits were high at Canterbury Woods as well. Geoven Snaer, Director of Administrative Services, says that “residents and staff were both very excited and relieved to finally get their vaccine.” 39 residents and 129 staff participated in the first clinic with more signing up for the second clinic, which will take place on February 4th.
The clinics “really are a team effort,” says Snaer, who highlighted the importance of staff who helped not only organize but also run the clinic, including intake, processing, providing assistance to residents, and notifying everyone about the correct time to arrive.
The clinic’s success was also due to the support from the local pharmacy, which Snaer notes “was fantastic. The pharmacists and support staff from Walgreens treated our residents and staff with much respect and courtesy. One pharmacist even stayed with our very last resident vaccine recipient to make sure she didn’t have a reaction afterwards.”
Common side effects like “soreness, body aches and headaches seem to be the things we are hearing about,” notes Snaer, who says that his “arm was sore for about 3 days, but that was about it.”
Vaccine clinics are continuing to be set up for all Covia communities with some starting their first clinics this week. Each community will have three clinics, which ensures that residents and staff both have the opportunity to get vaccinated. The second clinic will provide not only second doses for those who have already received the first dose but it will also provide first doses to those who weren’t able to attend the first clinic. As Spence notes, “looking forward to our second clinic, we know that being vaccinated won’t immediately change our new normal – but it’s moving us forward in the right direction to be together again.”
All five Covia Communities are among the 21% of U.S. skilled nursing facilities that have been recognized as a Best Nursing Home for 2020-21 by U.S. News & World Report.
The communities received Best Nursing Homes status by achieving a rating of “High Performing,” the highest possible rating, for Short-Term Rehabilitation, Long-Term Care, or both. Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove, St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, and San Francisco Towers all received the recognition for Short Term Rehabilitation. Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto was recognized for its Long Term Care. And Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa received the honor for both Short Term and Long Term care.
U.S. News gives the designation of Best Nursing Home only to those homes that satisfy U.S. News’s assessment of the appropriate use of key services and consistent performance in quality measures. This year, to accompany the new ratings, nursing home profile pages were updated to include a patient safety summary that reflects COVID-19 data alongside other measurements of safety and related advice on choosing a home or facility amidst the pandemic.
“I am so proud of all our Covia teams and their leadership, especially their implementation of the infection prevention processes that resulted in exceptional resident outcomes during this challenging pandemic,” says Cynthia Shelby, Covia’s Regional Director of Quality and Care, RN, RAC-CT.
All of the communities noted the extraordinary care and efforts given by their team members. Max Brodsky, Health Care Administrator at San Francisco Towers, says, “As I make my rounds checking in with the residents staying at the Health Center, one thing I hear over and over is ‘You have the most wonderful staff working here. They are kind, hard-working, and always do their best.’ It’s our culture of respect and integrity, and staff who embrace our philosophy that makes us the best and a five star facility.”
At St. Paul’s Towers, Health Care Administrator Connie Yuen says, “Our staff works from the kindness and love in their hearts. We’ve been told time and time again we do not work with patients, we work with residents that become a part of our family that we love and care for. The staff go above and beyond to connect with residents and take it a step further by providing updates, photos and spontaneous phone calls to give loved ones peace of mind.” Executive Director Mary Linde adds, “We at SPT are delighted to be among the best nursing homes in the country. But it comes as no surprise because we see the care, and the relationships that drive that care, on a daily basis. I believe the staff in our SPT SNF are, indeed, among the best in the industry.”
Kris Hermanson, Health Care Administrator at Spring Lake Village which was rated as High Performing for both Short Term and Long Term care, says, “It’s satisfying knowing you are giving quality care to our residents who deserve and have earned it!”
Now in its 11th year, the U.S. News Best Nursing Homes ratings and profiles offer comprehensive information about care, safety, health inspections, staffing and more for nearly all of the nation’s 15,000-plus nursing homes. The Best Nursing Homes ratings reflect U.S. News’ exclusive analysis of publicly available data using a methodology defined by U.S. News that evaluates factors that it has determined most greatly impact patient and resident care, safety, and outcomes.
“U.S. News strives to provide access to information that allows consumers to make educated decisions on all types of care,” said Ben Harder, managing editor and chief of health analysis at U.S. News. “Updating the profiles to include a patient safety summary that highlights COVID-19 data paired with other measures of care arms families, caregivers and patients with the information needed to make a decision that keeps safety at the highest priority.”
The Best Nursing Home finder features ratings on both long-term and short-term care. The Long-Term Care Rating aims to provide prospective residents who need help with daily activities, and their families, with analysis and information regarding the quality of care provided by nursing homes. The rating includes data on staffing, success in preventing ER visits and pneumonia vaccination rates, among other metrics. The short-term rating incorporates measures of quality including consistency of registered nurse staffing, use of antipsychotic drugs and success in preventing falls.
U.S. News & World Report is the global leader in quality rankings that empower people to make better, more informed decisions about important issues affecting their lives. A digital news and information company focused on Education, Health, Money, Travel, Cars and News USNews.com provides consumer advice, rankings and analysis to serve people making complex decisions throughout all stages of life. More than 40 million people visit USNews.com each month for research and guidance. Founded in 1933, U.S. News is headquartered in Washington, D.C. For more information behind both U.S. News ratings please refer to the FAQ.
As Covia communities and programs navigate the rapidly changing conditions and restrictions this year, we are grateful that we have resilient residents, participants, staff, and leadership that keep our communities moving forward. Challenging circumstances have brought people from across the organization together in new ways, encouraging teamwork and a sense that we truly are all in this together.
The Life Enrichment Directors across Covia Communities have been meeting monthly to share their upcoming plans and find ways to collaborate and share their virtual activities with residents of other communities. Alex Gerasimov, Covia’s Project Manager for resident experience, says, “In this time, our Life Enrichment teams united to support one another and to learn about each other’s best practices on keeping residents and staff engaged and involved in meaningful programs that enhance their health and wellness.”
Residents of Canterbury Woods and Webster House meet together on Zoom for weekly lectures and discussion groups on current events and world travel. Ania Spiering, Life Enrichment Director at Webster House, shares, “Both programs engage residents in conversation, which keeps it lively and interesting. It is wonderful to see people coming together and utilizing the possibilities that technology provides.” The two communities also share musical programs with each other. Every week, a Canterbury Woods resident shares a recorded concert, and in return, Lily Godsoe, the Webster House chaplain, offers a flute and meditation session.
Other communities have taken advantage of the virtual space to invite residents from all communities to join their ongoing events, creating more enrichment opportunities. St. Paul’s Towers invited residents of the other Covia communities to join its sponsored webinar about water issues facing Northern California, offered as part of the UC Retiree Learning Series. San Francisco Towers is also opening up its weekly lecture series to all communities. In September, the guest lecturer was Dr. Tammy Duong on dealing with loneliness and depression during the isolation of the pandemic. Spring Lake Village, known for its award-winning active wellness and fitness programs, shared all of its fitness videos with the other Covia communities so all residents can stay active in the comfort of their homes.
*This article was originally posted in the Fall 2020 edition of Community Matters
When the St. Paul’s Towers Resident Council met at the beginning of 2020, Council President Laura Galvin presented the idea of developing resident liaisons to promote connection across different levels of care within the community. This idea kicked off the creation of the Three Levels of Care (TLC) program, which seeks to create well-meaning relationships, increase socialization, and decrease isolation by connecting residents in Independent and Assisted Living.
SPT resident Irene Olson realized that as an Independent Living (IL) resident she didn’t know a great deal about Assisted Living (AL). She found herself asking, “What happens when we move to Assisted Living one day?” Olson was inspired to get involved, developing initiatives such as shared lunches and apartment visits so that IL residents could create lasting relationships with residents in AL.
“TLC is a way to break down silos between the continuum and live together as equals,” notes Connie Yuen, St. Paul’s Towers Assistant Health Care Administrator. “I am so proud of Ms. Olson and the residents who set up such a fantastic program that focuses on inclusion and community building.”
The TLC program is currently paused while sheltering in place but Olson is excited to continue growing the program once shelter in place is done. There are discussions about making the TLC program a permanent committee at St. Paul’s and after working on connecting IL and AL residents, the plan is to “expand to SNF (skilled nursing),” says Olson.
The TLC program shows great promise. Resident volunteers partnered with the Assisted Living Activities Coordinator to get more AL residents involved in community events and to develop relationships one on one. These volunteers, including Olson, help bring AL residents to dinner, happy hour, concerts, classes, and activities. They even developed a wheelchair brigade, which Olson says was created “to increase participation and socialization.”
Resident volunteers work hard to make sure that the experience is not only fun but also meaningful. Volunteers check in with AL residents, asking what would make the experience meaningful for them and tailoring the program to their needs.
For Joe, one of the AL residents that Olson worked with at the TLC program’s inception, the focus was on maintaining old friendships and getting to know new residents. Olson set out to make this happen for Joe by bringing him to the main dining room for meals and art classes to see his friends. All of this work helped them “develop such a strong bond over a short time,” notes Olson.
Though the TLC program is currently only at St. Paul’s Towers, Olson hopes that it will inspire “all Covia communities to get more involved at the AL level.” She notes, “It’s so easy to spend time with the resident in their room, play a game together, and find out what they need and how we can achieve something meaningful together. TLC is so easy at SPT. Everything is an elevator ride away so go see someone who is looking forward to spending time with you.”
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.
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.
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.
Community life at Covia shifted with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of the shelter-in-place orders — residents, staff, and program participants found new ways to stay connected. Group activities and communal dining were put on hold while residents stayed safer at home, but resident resiliency and staff dedication quickly allowed for new realities.
A primary challenge for dining services at each community was shifting from a seated dining room experience to packaging all meals for delivery or take-out. Dining staff rose to the occasion with creativity, experimentation, and flexibility. At Canterbury Woods, residents even volunteered to help coordinate the orders for their neighbors so everyone could get what they wanted. To enhance their regular meal offerings, the San Francisco Towers dining staff offered a weekly door-to-door cart with wine and cheese and fresh produce from the farmer’s market.
At St. Paul’s Towers, a server went out of his way to bring Margaret Hasselman, an SPT resident, part of her meal that had gotten left out of her bag. “Last night after I returned to my apartment from picking up my dinner at the bistro, I heard a knock at my door. It was Roderick! He came up to my 12th floor apartment to bring me crudités that were missing from my bag,” Margaret says. “I still am so delighted that he would do that. Such an act of kindness, generosity, and thoughtfulness. ”
At Webster House, Executive Director Linda Hibbs checks in on residents by personally delivering glasses of wine door to door in the evening. At Canterbury Woods, the “Good Humor Crew” was a big hit, with dining staff going door to door delivering ice cream. “It makes me feel like a kid again!” says one happy customer.
Activities directors also had to adapt, and staff and residents alike began embracing the virtual possibilities for group activities. Spring Lake Village, which has a robust wellness program, created a schedule of fitness classes for residents to enjoy via the Zoom online platform, accessed by computer or tablet. A parcourse with exercises to be done outside along the walking path was also created as a way for the residents to get exercise while socially distanced. Musicians who would typically perform for an audience in the Spring Lake Village Montgomery Center recorded concerts to be enjoyed online. Residents also staged impromptu concerts in courtyards for neighbors to enjoy from their windows and doorways.
At St. Paul’s Towers, the program team organized a socially distanced virtual happy hour where residents visited the lounge to pick up a glass of wine, sparkling water, or portioned ingredients to make their own cocktail of the day. Residents took their beverages back to their apartments and tuned into a Zoom session to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.
Social distancing may mean that our residents and staff can’t be physically close, but fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to connect with each other and the outside world while staying safe at home.
*This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 edition of Community Matters
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
When shelter-in-place orders made it impossible for residents at St. Paul’s Towers to participate in the Black Lives Matter protests taking place around their Oakland community, resident Jean E. Taylor decided to share with her fellow residents an idea she had in the middle of the night. “My idea: we show support for the protesters by staging our own miniprotest.”
The idea grew. “Many of us have been feeling rather helpless, given that it is not safe for us individually to participate in protest marches,” Taylor notes. “But there has been a coalescence around the idea of a balcony protest here at SPT.”
Residents began making posters, including large letters to spell out “Black Lives Matter” to hang along one side of the high rise. On Wednesday, June 10, a number of residents gathered on their balconies on the Bay Street side of the building at 5:00 to cheer, bang pots and pans, hit gongs, and unveil their posters as well as a large BLM banner, unveiled along the top of the building.
Spring Lake Village residents also planned their own Black Lives Matter march around the perimeter of their Santa Rosa campus. Resident Council Chair John Buckstead led off the march. “The work of America’s founders and our ancestors, of Jefferson and Madison and Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King is not finished,” he told the close to 100 residents who had gathered to participate. “This is a reminder that their work is our work. We’re still here. We’re still in. You were probably doing this 50 years ago. We need to resume.”
Although protests are not a typical part of community life, the communities’ administration and Covia’s leadership recognize the resident-led efforts to exercise their rights to self-expression. “With a diversity of views in each community, it was important to consider those rights in light of Covia’s fundamental values of respect, civility in our differences, and treating one another with dignity – a difficult balancing act,” says Mary McMullin, Chief Strategy and Advancement Officer. “I believe residents were able to express their honest opinions in a respectful way.”
Along with public protests, communities also planned vigils with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to remember the death of George Floyd and others. At Webster House, Chaplain Lily Godsoe and Executive Director Linda Hibbs joined staff from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation who observed the time of silence as a part of their organization’s response to the tragedy. “We joined them, and then decided we wanted to do the same ritual with our staff,” Godsoe says. About 15 people participated. “It was very moving for us to gather as we did in the lobby of the Health Center to honor the collective grief we were all feeling.”
Residents at St. Paul’s Towers also requested a vigil – which was joined by residents and staff at other communities and at Support Services. SPT’s chaplain Meredith Cahn, opened the vigil, saying, “We are heart-broken, we are in pain. And, as members of the Covia community, we are not in a position to march with the marchers, as we are protecting each other from COVID-19, as members of the most vulnerable group, or staff to you. So this is one of the ways we are showing support and proclaiming that we know that Black Lives Matter.” SPT resident Patrick O’Halloran provided centering thoughts before participants entered into almost 9 minutes of silence.
St. Paul’s Towers resident Jean Taylor noted how many people were involved in these events “from helping draft emails, making and distributing flyers, making the giant letters of our vertical banner, organizing and taking pictures of people with their posters, distributing materials for posters, doing the banner unfurling, etc., etc.” Although the media has often represented Black Lives Matter as a movement primarily of young people, “We say: don’t forget us old folks,” says Taylor. “We too have energy. We also believe in what we’re doing, and we’re not going to let up either.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.