Aliona Gibson, Activities Coordinator at Oak Center Towers (OCT), found her world turned upside down last year when pandemic shelter-in-place orders began. She went from having close and personal interactions with the residents at her community and being able to organize interesting outings to having to greet people from a distance and a severely curtailed activity calendar, with all contact masked and distanced. Fortunately, Aliona was able to adapt quickly and continue to provide engagement activities and helpful resources for residents of the West Oakland community.
“Since March of last year, I have been creating monthly packets for our residents to give them something to do while they are safe at home. The packets includes a variety of puzzles and brain teasers, easy recipes, and a letter with helpful information about Coronavirus from the CDC, all translated into the different languages spoken by our residents.”
“Some residents will complete the entire packet and return it to me, a sign that they are engaged and enjoying the handouts,” Aliona says. “We have been able to do some group activities outside. Even though it’s sometimes cold, our residents show up for socially-distanced bingo! On holiday crafts day, residents still came out to make holiday cards and cookie ornaments even though it was a bit windy.”
Aliona’s favorite part of her role at Oak Center Towers is getting to know the residents. “Despite some language barriers, I feel connected and appreciated. I love the chuckles when I say ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ in Cantonese, Korean, or Tigrinya. It’s challenging not to be able to verbally communicate extensively with everyone, but they are still able to let me know they enjoyed an activity I organized, which makes me feel good about my work,” Aliona says. “I especially enjoyed being able to deliver handmade cards created by volunteers from Creative Spark, Covia’s creative aging program. It was during a time when I felt like a small thing like a card with an inspirational message could brighten someone’s day! Shout out to the Creative Spark team!”
Originally published in the Spring Lake Village resident newsletter – special October edition
As part of what was labeled a “Public Safety Power Shutoff event” by PG&E and dubbed a “Massive Blackout” by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Spring Lake Village residents and staff were without electrical power midweek during the second week in October 2019.
Residents and staff relied on generators—big and small— battery-operated lanterns, ingenuity, problem solving and community spirit to weather the corporate-made outage.
Planning for a big storm or an earthquake started in the 2013 re-model of the Village Center when a new generator system was installed. This generator powered the kitchen and emergency lighting throughout the week. “Don’t worry, we’ll have lots to eat,” promised Dining Director Larry Brooks.
Melissa Anderson, Activities Director for Assisted Living residents, reports, “The kitchen was amazing, making sure our residents had hot food for all our meals, even though our own kitchen was down. With no elevators, Assisted Living staff went up and down stairs to be sure that the 16 residents on the 2nd floor had all they needed. The staff joked that we lost 10 pounds each in the stair climbing.”
Programs and activities for residents throughout campus continued – with changes necessitated by the lack of electrical power. A 2000 piece Cinque Terre puzzle donated by a resident was moved next to the Great Hall windows for better light. Dogs helped their resident owners stick to a walking schedule, regardless of a power outage.
The swimming pool closing was expected due to the need for filter, circulation and pool heating systems. What was unexpected was the prompt steaming up of the floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the heated pool area. With the power outage, there was a fear of mold developing from lack of air circulation. Staff rigged up generators and fans to keep the air moving.
A power strip and generator with the sign Charging Station turned out to be a big hit. “What started as a single table, doubled in size to accommodate the demand as dozens of devices were recharged at the station on the Creekside Patio,” reported Facilities Director Dennis McLean.
Seventy motion-detector, solar-powered walkway lights installed in September lit up the covered sidewalks. The lights worked well during the power outage. For many residents, the first and last word was “the lantern” which lit up kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms and halls. “You need to have at least three,” was the agreed-to number. “I bought four for Christmas gifts and used them all,” exclaimed another resident.
Small generators were threaded into the business offices around the Village Center and Resident Health Services. Keeping computers going was essential to maintain “business as usual.”
No power meant no school, but if you were lucky, you became part of the impromptu Spring Lake Village Take Your Kids to Work Day. Bistro Sous Chef Adrian Alberto brought his three daughters to work to provide a no-school day option. Housekeeper Carmen provided on-the-spot assistance with activities. “We wanted to make sure our staff had an option for taking care of their kids,” reports Assistant Executive Director Kris Hermanson on the “bring your kids” impromptu program.
Anderson adds, “As we delivered the trays, the residents were so concerned about us, asking about our kids, our homes, our families and our power situation, wanting to make sure we were safe. The residents adapted to the routine, without a negative word. We are family.”
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.”
Originally published in Engage Winter 2019
In December 2018, Sandra Crowder, Environmental Services Tech, was named Los Gatos Meadows Employee of the Quarter.
The Covia community shared on Facebook that “Sandra’s positivity and attention to detail inspires all who cross her path. She holds herself to very high standards and strives to provide excellence to residents, team members, and guests.”
For her part, Sandra says, “One of my goals at work is to make people smile and feel cared for which is easy here.” She adds, “Also I have a wonderful supervisor and I feel appreciated by my boss and the management.”
But which came first: Sandra’s high standards, or the appreciation of the management?
“What we find across all industries across all countries is that people want the same thing,” says Jacquelyn Kung, CEO of Activated Insights, a senior care company of Great Place to Work. “And it comes down to trust.”
Great Place to Work has been studying the elements of trust in the workplace for over 30 years. They have found five key elements: Respect, Credibility, Fairness, Camaraderie, and Pride. Together, these comprise the Trust Index – a measure that is tied to increased organizational performance.
According to Kung, the first three measures – Respect (I feel respected by my employer), Credibility (I can believe what my employer is telling me), and Fairness (I feel that decisions and policies are fair) establish a relationship built in trust. “What really elevates it even more is Camaraderie, which is with my coworkers, and then Pride in what I do,” she says.
For the first time this year, Great Place to Work has offered a list of Best Places to Work in Aging Services. Covia, a LeadingAge California member based in Walnut Creek, placed 29th overall.
The Trust Index has been shown to have a causal effect on improving the workplace. “You improve the Trust Index score, and your performance as an organization improves. In public companies, the best companies outperform the stock market index by a factor of 200 to 300 percent,” says Kung. “In our industry, higher Trust Index score, lower employee turnover. Higher Trust Index score, happier residents and families. Higher Trust Index score, better occupancy.”
Of the five dimensions of Trust, Covia rated highest in Pride and lowest in Fairness – a typical result for the Aging Services industry, according to Kung.
“Our industry compared to other industries really stands out for that reason – pride and purpose – and it’s the organizations that highlight and inculcate that best that seem to do best,” says Kung. “And of course they also are high in respect, credibility, fairness, camaraderie.”
For fairness, perception is key, and a lot of the perception is based on day to day activities, such as scheduling. “Scheduling is really important for this industry. If you’re not getting what you requested and you see someone else and you don’t know why, then it’s perceived as not fair.” One way to improve the perception is to make sure employees understand why something is the way it is.
Another common area of perceived unfairness is compensation. “Our industry does not do a good job communicating how compensation is determined,” notes Kung. “And compensation includes of course the pay itself, but also benefits, and having some sort of share in success.”
For Covia, which had been evaluating employee satisfaction through other surveys since 2010, the choice to partner with Great Place to Work made sense.
“Quite honestly, it’s a great recruiting tool,” says Prab Brinton, Covia’s Vice President of Human Resources. “The minute that you say, ‘We’re a great place to work,’ the candidate instinctively paints a picture of what that looks like for them.”
“I think the designation is also a good reminder for our current workforce,” she adds. “It reminds them: ‘Oh, wait a minute. Actually, you know what? We are a pretty good place to work because here’s what all of my peers are saying. Here are all the great things my employer offers me.’ It’s a great reminder, just from a retention perspective.”
“The other thing that was really good about this tool is that it’s also being able to tie our employee feedback to the resident experience,” says Brinton. With other surveys, “We got lots of great information, but how do you tie it into the resident experience? With Great Place to Work, we were able to give them that information and they were able to correlate that together for us.”
And of course, the Great Place to Work survey gave Covia information on where it can grow and improve, both overall as an organization as well as at a community or departmental level.
One area where Brinton feels Covia has room to improve is in building stronger relationships with employees, rather than spending the bulk of the time in bureaucratic tasks. “We have systems to handle day to day tasks. These systems help us move employee conversations from ‘did you fill out your benefits paperwork’ to ‘let’s talk about what would be the best benefit choice for you and your family.’ Or if you know that there’s a rising star within your community – the conversation turns to ‘Hey what are your plans? I know you’re getting ready to graduate from school, what are you planning to do? Have you considered this kind of position with us?’ We should be turning it more into that kind of relationship. We spend a lot of time building those relationships with our residents. We need to do the same with our employees.”
In her one-on-one meetings with her direct report, Brinton focuses on four areas: the status of current projects; any roadblocks or concerns; current successes; and ongoing career development needs and desires. “I do think that a lot of times in many organizations, HR falls into the role of ‘managing’ employees through their tenure. The true role of HR should be to create an environment that employees can come in and do a great job every day and feel pride in the job that they are doing. We’re also here hopefully to educate in some way, to help employees along their career path.”
And if the original career path doesn’t work, there may be another way to use a talented employee’s skills and talents. Gina Secchi, Marketing Coordinator at St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, started her career at Covia as the Catering Manager at San Francisco Towers. “I loved the event planning and the San Francisco Towers residents and felt mentored by [Director of Dining Services] Larry Brooks,” says Secchi. “Unfortunately, the commute was too much and I wasn’t going to be able to stay. When I mentioned this to Larry, he was instrumental in me coming to St. Paul’s Towers. He knew my strengths and suggested to [Executive Director] Melody Mitchell and [HR Director] Donna Tendler that I work at St. Paul’s as the marketing coordinator and they all helped me to do so. Larry made me feel very respected because he said, ‘I wish you could stay here but I would rather have you work for Covia than have the company lose you.’” Secchi is now considering getting a degree in Marketing. “I know that Covia has a program that assists with going back to school and I am looking into participating in this program.”
“I would say to other aging services companies, figure out ways to make your employees feel connected to the organization, to the management teams, to the other employees. I think that goes a long way,” says Brinton. “If you don’t feel connected to your spouse or partner, you say, ‘OK, I need to find greener pastures.’ It’s the same thing on employment. If employees don’t feel connected then they’ll ask themselves, ‘Why should I keep coming here? You don’t value anything that I bring to you.’ It’s really being able to harness the connection between employer and employee.”
“Covia believes that every single employee is essential and vital to our team. Our management staff works hard to communicate this and to be sure everyone is treated that way,” says Ron Schaefer, Chief Operating Officer. “Covia is also a great place to work because of the important work we do: supporting older people to live well and age well.”
“There are always the usual things: you have pay, you have benefits,” says Brinton. “I think more importantly are the people you work with, believing in the mission of the organization, and being surrounded by a bunch of people who are driven by that same thing. I think that makes Covia a great place to work.”
Brinton adds, “I think something that makes us unique over numerous other industries outside of senior living is the employees get to feel like they have an extended family outside of your work family. You have these great seniors or elderly people that you are interacting with on a day to day basis. One, they’re very grateful that you’re there helping them. But two, just think about all the stories you get and the added knowledge or learning. You just feel connected.”
This connection is clearly felt by Sandra Crowder at Los Gatos Meadows. “I truly give my all to Covia and the residents,” she says. “I also receive a lot of joy from the residents in return.”
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.”
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.”
October 9 is the anniversary of the devastating fires that swept through Santa Rosa in 2017. Residents from both Spring Lake Village and Jennings Court were evacuated and twelve of Covia’s staff lost their home in the fires.
Here are a few of the stories from our residents and staff. If you have a memory you wish to share, please email it to Laura Darling at email@example.com.
Fred Jennings Court resident
I was almost caught in the fire itself. I was housesitting up on the very top of Fountain Grove and taking care of a little dog who was recovering from a broken back surgery. And banging on the door, I ran to the front door, it was 1:00 in the morning, a man was yelling, “We have to leave! We have to leave! Everything is on fire!” I could see the blazes coming up across the street. So the dog and I and everything left there within 12 minutes. Toby is the dog’s name, was so cool, he let me glide him in and glide him out and out we went. And then it was very slow because of all of the traffic coming all the way down. I got home here, and the very next day all our electricity went out. So I carried Toby up and down the stairs for that time when it was out. And here the dog was healing from back injury. Well, his owner has been so kind to me! And I think he would have if we got to know each other, but this was the first time I house sat for him. He always introduces me, “This is Fred who saved Toby.”
Patricia Burke Skilled Nursing Housekeeping, Spring Lake Village
The morning of the fires was chaotic. Our neighbor came and knocked on doors and said we had to get out because the fire was coming. We grabbed the dog and put him in the neighbor’s car and drove off. We didn’t grab anything else because we didn’t ever think we’d lose everything.
We drove away and tried to notify other neighbors by banging on their doors and trying to help with evacuations. Everything was burned the next day when we went back home. I called my supervisor and let her know my house was gone and I wouldn’t be reporting to work. She assured me my job was secure and told me to take my time coming back into work. I was paid for the time I was off, that helped immensely.
After only a few days off, I returned to work, mostly because I needed something to keep my mind off the loss. The entire staff and residents were very compassionate and gave continued hugs (they still do when they see me). There were donations from all areas – LeadingAge California, LeadingAge National, Covia, credit unions, residents, architects, local communities and even co-workers all donated to us. The compassion from executive staff was strong and the ongoing continued support has been paramount to my emotional healing. You don’t ever really get over such devastation, and having co-workers and residents still ask how I’m doing feels really good.
Covia has done a great job of supporting continued communications with co-workers, who were also greatly affected by the fires and we’ve created an internal support group to help each other through the rough times.
We were offered outside counseling and it was important to know, even though I relied on friends and family for support, that the option was available to me.
Renee Hayward Spring Lake Village, Director of Social Services
I remember waking up in the night and running from the fire. The first thing I grabbed was my work clothes because I knew I had to go to work on Monday.
We left and later learned our home and entire neighborhood burned to the ground. When I went back to work on Tuesday, I didn’t know the extent of the fire and didn’t realize until I showed up to Spring Lake Village that we were going to have to evacuate due to smoke damage. As a social worker, I had experience working in these sensitive situations and knew I had to find permanent places, call families, and mostly ensure the sound emotional and medical states of our residents. I was operating in survival mode at that point and just keeping my mind off my own devastation and loss the day prior.
Two days after the fires, we all went to Casa Grande gym to support our memory and skilled nursing residents. Our residents did really well and one said to me, “I used to work at Red Cross and set up for war…this is nothing compared to that.” I called families and helped residents get placed and transferred to other communities as soon as possible. There were 11 of us who lost our homes here and just talking with other staff was very valuable.
Once I knew all the residents were evacuated and settled, I finally took some time off to provide the emotional support to my family. Just driving was tough after the fires as my husband and I were in a fog. During the whole event, I really learned that everyone rallies the few months of the emergency and it was very valuable to have that ongoing support. The hardest part of the whole ordeal is that people who haven’t gone through that kind of total loss don’t understand the timeline. First you battle with insurance and then you are just in basic survival mode. Anything out of the normal, even a simple flat tire, is devastating. You look for things you ”had” and people don’t understand that feeling. Your body is in transition and you feel like you’re on vacation. In addition, you forget your things are gone. The entire situation was tough but it helped me better understand what residents are going through. I now have a greater level of personal empathy for their situations.
I would offer communities that should your staff go through a crisis, don’t be afraid to ask, “how’s it going?” It’s okay to say “I’m sorry” and it’s important to have a staff and a resident meeting that provides updates on all individuals involved. Covia was great at respecting our right to privacy and letting us “tell our story” as we were comfortable.
[Originally printed in LeadingAge California’s Engage Magazine]
Madeleine Jennings Court resident
During the fire, it was terrifying. I don’t know any other way to describe it. We were without power, I think maybe it was only 24 hours, it might have been a little longer. Someone came over to check on me and took me and another friend to her house to recharge our phones because we were without power to recharge phones.
Just knowing that so many people were impacted – and still are. It’s a beautiful community, though, for the fact that those of us who live here are low income and we gave. It wasn’t, “Well, we don’t have enough to give.” When it’s in a situation when you know others need something, everyone pulled together. I would say, “This person’s daughter lost everything and her husband’s a musician.” I had friends give me a banjo, I had guitar music given to me. Just those kind of things mean so much, and I was amazed myself at the things I was willing to part with in order to assist others. So that’s the beauty of it, and it’s something that will live with us for a long, long time.
Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa is hosting its 4th annual Wellness Games the week of September 24-28.
Held during International Active Aging Week, the Wellness Games celebrate all dimensions of wellness, including social, emotional, intellectual, physical, occupational, environmental, spiritual, and financial wellness.
According to Spring Lake Village Director of Wellness Diane Waltz, “Wellness is an expanded idea of health and means more than the absence of disease. It is much more than being in good physical health, exercising regularly, and eating right. True wellness is determined by the decisions one makes about how to live life with vitality and meaning.”
Each year’s Wellness Games include a wide array of activities such as a walk-a-thon, treasure hunt, table tennis tournament, sing-a-long, bird walk, brain fitness challenges, poetry readings, and the ever-popular SLV’s Got Talent Show. Participants can win points for an activity in any of the eight dimensions of wellness. For example, they can get physical wellness points for going for a walk; earn emotional wellness points by smiling five times a day; collect intellectual wellness points by reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle; gain social wellness points by playing bridge with a friend; or add environmental points by recycling.
The games are open to residents and staff across the community. Residents and staff are randomly assigned to one of six color teams. Participants are notified of their color team assignment the week before the games begin and given a team color button or bracelet to wear throughout the week. The team getting the most points receives a team photo and color team recognition on the Wellness Games Plaque displayed in the Montgomery Center for a year.
But everyone benefits from Wellness Week as it builds relationships and community throughout Spring Lake Village. And it’s fun. Waltz says, “I love that it brings residents across all levels of care and employees across all departments together for a week of fun activities that promote all dimensions of wellness.”