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News and perspectives from Covia.

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 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.