The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

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 ltdarling@covia.org.

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.”

To observe National Assisted Living Week, Laura Darling, Senior Director of Communications, talked to some of our staff to explain more about this misunderstood part of community life.

LD: What do you wish people knew about Assisted Living?

Barb Fischer, Director of Resident Health Services, St. Paul’s Towers: Many people think that Assisted Living refers to a nursing home. I want people to realize that Assisted Living communities are just like Independent Living communities, except assistance of different levels can be provided in their apartment and staff are available 24/7.  

Lucy L. Ascalon, RN, Assistant Director of Resident Health Services & Assisted Living Manager, San Francisco TowersI wish people knew more about Assisted Living, how we take care of people and what other services we provide as a whole.

Charmaine Verador, Director of Resident Health Services, Los Gatos Meadows: One question that always comes up is “Do I have to share a room?” Our assisted living residents, just like independent living residents have their own apartments that they enjoy privately.

Our assisted living residents mingle and socialize with independent living residents because really, there is not much difference. They have the same apartment settings, go to the same dining room and activities as they can tolerate. Residents in assisted living are only getting assistance so that they can continue with their daily lives.

In Assisted Living we do not take over everything. We personalize our care according to what they need. For example if the resident is still able to shower but will need medication management, then we encourage their independence on the shower task and assist with their medications.

LD: My sense is a lot of people are afraid of moving from Independent Living to Assisted Living. What would you like people who feel that way to know about Assisted Living?

Barb Fischer: This is totally true!  I always joke about our independent living residents hiding when they see me coming down the hall as they are fearful I want to move them. I really don’t have that desire at all!  I want the residents to stay in their apartments as long as possible and have help there if they need it.  That is the great thing about the whole community being licensed, which allows residents to receive care or assistance in their Independent Living apartment just like Assisted Living.  It gives us the ability to provide assistance in their apartment for longer periods of time.  

Lucy L. Ascalon: I think the reason basically that they are afraid of moving to Assisted Living is that they believe they will give up being independent. But I would like the residents to know that  we also can extend their being independent by assisting them and keeping them safe and sound, by having somebody 24/7 that checks with them all shift.

Charmaine Verador: Residents feel like they are losing their independence when they move to Assisted Living. But when a resident needs assistance, it is because they have a hard time safely completing some but not all of their activities of daily living. Most of the time, it takes all their energy and effort to accomplish one task that in the end they are no longer able to do anything else for the day because they are too tired. For example, I have a resident that took 2 hour showers because he had a hard time reaching over, getting in and out of the shower, and picking his clothes from the closet. When he moved to Assisted Living, it seems that he had more energy walking to the dining room for meals, and he gets his shower done faster and more efficiently. He is able to go to activities and has thrived well in Assisted Living – better than when he was in Independent Living. He now also appears worry free and is enjoying more activities.

LD: How do you support people who make the move from Independent Living to Assisted Living?

Barb Fischer: In the event the move to Assisted Living is necessary, we always look at the pros and what the benefits are to living on a floor with staffing 24 hours a day. Sometimes it makes more sense for the resident to reside in an Assisted Living apartment based on their needs.

Lucy L. Ascalon: We give them our 100% support in any way we can.

Charmaine Verador: Although it is not required by licensing, we have a nurse 24 hours that checks on the residents when needed. Once they move to Assisted Living, the nurse would visit them more frequently in the beginning just to make sure that their needs are met and that they are settling well. I also visit them during the first day or first few days to see how they settled in.

We have continuity of care meeting every week and we talk about the care of the resident that has just moved to Assisted Living (i.e. are they adjusting well, etc.). During monthly meetings, the staff contribute their feedback and observation about new resident in Assisted Living and we come up with an action plan if there is a need. If needed, we follow up with a care conference. We also check in with the family and see if there is anything else we can do.

LD: What else would you like to share about your work or about Assisted Living in your community?

Barb Fischer: I believe the key to creating a happy assisted living community is letting the residents be involved in their care, keep them as independent as we can for as long as possible, and consistent communication with families. For the families, it’s all about the details.  As long as we get the details right and our resident feels safe and secure, we are good! 

Lucy L. Ascalon: For me I love what I do, I love serving people and I feel productive every day knowing that I am able to help the staff and the residents.

May 30, 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of National Senior Health and Fitness Day, which is observed annually on the last Wednesday in May. We interviewed Esteban Sahade, Wellness Coordinator for St. Paul’s Towers, for his insights on senior health and fitness. 

How did you get involved in senior health and fitness?

When I was in grad school I took an internship to work in health and fitness with seniors. It was an opportunity to learn something I was little familiar with. As I started I discovered a new, fascinating world. I felt that all my previous training, experience and even my personality came together and preparing me for that. Soon afterwards I knew it was what I wanted to do from that moment on.  

What (if anything) is different about senior health and fitness from being a fitness trainer for other populations?

From a fitness perspective I think it’s a most rewarding experience. You can positively impact so many lives. With a relatively small investment of time and energy you can see fast and profound functional changes. You’re directly helping them improving their quality of life, independence, and dignity.  Besides that, older adults recognize and are grateful for any effort, little or big, in helping them improve, and the time you put into it.

What do you think would surprise people about senior fitness?

One thing that surprises many people is to know that the rate of improvement in some fitness components, like muscular strength, is similar for people in their 90s and people in their 20s. There are challenges, but with good care, the right stimulus, and in the absence of disease and injuries/accidents, the aging human body is capable of outstanding physical achievements, as shown by the performance of senior athletes who train and compete in many sports and age categories, including 100+.

What do you recommend for someone who wants to stay fit and healthy as a senior?

Find activities you like and enjoy. Exercise is not really necessary if you have a diverse physically active lifestyle. The movement involved in regular activities such as grocery shopping, gardening, domestic chores, visiting friends or family, playing with your grandchildren, walking your dog, dancing, travelling, etc., may be all the stimulus your body needs to stay fit and healthy. Add movement throughout your day; for example, stand more times, walk more when you have the opportunity (or create some), and use the stairs if you can.

Why is it important to recognize senior health and fitness?

Because it’s not about exercise, it’s about life and dignity. Failing to recognize its importance creates a negative social conditioning. Even if times have changed, many people, including family members, still think that their elders are too old or too frail to move or to exercise. This results in lost opportunities and motivation for seniors to get more fit and be healthier, creating an environment that leads them to an accelerated decline and functional loss.

What have you learned from working with seniors on health and fitness?

It doesn’t matter how active (or little active) you’ve been all your life. It’s never too late to start moving more, or different, and increase your body functional capacity which will result in positive changes in your life, improved wellbeing (not only physical, but also psychological, emotional, and even social), and better quality of life.

January 21-27 is Activity Professionals week. But what is an activity professional? And what do they do?

“From an outsider’s perspective, one assumes that we play bingo every day. This is not the case,” says Connie Yuen, Program Coordinator for St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “Our activities aim to stimulate the mind and body, awaken your senses, enrich lives and make an impact to the culture of our community.”

Executive Director Mary Linde agrees. “What is amazing about activities/life enrichment at St. Paul’s is that it truly is Life Enrichment. The kinds of activities are broad and so engaging. We bring residents across all levels of care together so no one feels marginalized.”

The activities at each community vary depending on the interest of the residents. Megan Sullivan from San Francisco Towers says, “The majority of programs provided at SFT are based on resident input; they help support the unique culture here. As Life Enrichment Director, I work directly with the [Resident] Program Committee to schedule all special concerts and lectures. I also add my own programming, based on resident interests, such as online talks from the Harvard Institute of Politics.”

Activities are also designed with the eight aspects of wellness in mind: Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Occupational, Physical, Social and Spiritual.

“Activity professionals create programs to be beneficial and therapeutic to increase overall well-being and quality of life in individuals, by determining their interests and finding what activities provided can best suit them,” says Alexis Kendrix, Director of Activities at Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto.

“I wish that people knew more about the benefits of participating in wellness activities. People should want to participate in activities because of the enjoyment and fulfillment, instead of just to keep busy. Providing activities that are of people’s leisure interests is meaningful to their overall well-being,” Kendrix adds.

senior community activities

Mary Lou Kelpe celebrating with the Pirates chair volleyball team

Mary Lou Kelpe, Director of Wellness for Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove, explains, “When we go to Point Lobos State Reserve with multiple docents and have a picnic, it’s much more than a walk and lunch. It’s Emotional, Environmental, Intellectual, Physical, Social and Spiritual Wellness. I believe that’s why we feel so great, after spending time engaging in nature.”

“The active imaginations and energy of our professionals working in tandem with the residents lead to extraordinary events and activities,” says Norma Brambilla, Executive Director of Canterbury Woods. “Truly the trick is finding some one thing to entice each person. Variation is key. The challenge to these professionals is never-ending and their caring and ideas are boundless. It would be so boring without them!”