The Square
News and perspectives from Covia.

After graduating from high school in Vallejo, Jasphere “Phey” Abuan wanted to be a biochemist. “I was actually in a biochem program back in the day,” she says, “and then life happens.” In 2000, she left an abusive relationship, took her 8-month-old daughter and the $30 she had in her pocket and moved home to live with her mother. Now, with the support of Covia’s employee Educational Assistance program, she is preparing to enter a graduate program for a Master’s Degree in Physician’s Assistant Studies.

After returning to Vallejo, Phey joined a temp agency that assigned her to construction companies. “I did subcontracting, I did liens, I did accounts payable stuff. I picked it up really quick. And I picked up the 10 key really fast too. That’s when I decided, ‘I have this kid. I need to do something. And I can’t do anything without a degree.’” While working, she got her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and a minor in accounting in 2009. But she still hoped to work for a health-related organization.

Married and with a second child, Phey got laid off from her job with the construction company in 2010. “I got into another temp job I didn’t like so much. It was still construction but more, like, pipes. It paid the bills. I was still looking for something and then [in 2012] I got an opportunity for another temp to hire job here. They told me it’s a senior living community management type company and I’m like, ‘Yes! This is what I want.’ So I finally got in here, got my foot in the door.”

Her work with Covia took her to visit Webster House Health Center. “I would go there and I would see the facility and it intrigued me.” Observing the Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), nurses, and others made Phey revisit her dream to enter the medical field – a dream that was also part of her family history. Her father had studied to be a doctor in the Philippines, but the death of his father had interrupted his studies. Instead, after immigrating to the US with Phey and her two siblings, he had had to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet for his family.

At Covia, “my manager  pushed us to look into the Educational Assistance program at every finance meeting we had,” Phey says. However, she didn’t think she qualified since the program is for training directly related to a person’s job or career path at Covia. “I thought, it can’t be applied to me, because I want to be a PA [Physician’s Assistant] and I don’t think there’s a lot of PAs employed directly here. So I talked to Prab [Brinton, VP of HR] and Prab said, ‘It’s still a medical line. You can totally do that.’”

Phey began her studies in 2016. “Every new fiscal year, I applied to complete one grueling class. In 2016, I completed my Chemistry class. In 2017, I completed my Anatomy & Physiology class, and in 2018, I have completed my Biochemistry class using the Educational Assistance program here at Covia. I coordinated the most expensive courses first and paid out of pocket with my other courses. I also took advantage in borrowing from my Covia 403b to pay for other classes.” Her final class this semester is Human Biology at Diablo Valley College. “We get to dissect a pig. I’m so excited!”

In January, Phey plans to get her certificate to be a CNA. While continuing in her full-time position as Payroll Specialist at Support Services, she will also work on getting at least 2,000 direct care hours as a CNA at Covia Communities before applying for Physician’s Assistant programs.

“One thing led to another for me and it was kind of – I don’t know, it was just magical. If you asked me when I was hired here, I had no clue. But one question I had that I actually asked opened up doors for other opportunities that can advance my career. And that I did not expect,” Phey says.

Her biggest advice for Covia employees who wonder if this benefit applies to them is simply to ask. “There’s so much opportunity that we as Covia Communities give our employees. If you’re interested, get the information. There are so many benefits out there – not just medical benefits. Our HR group has a lot of information that can guide you through these things. So if you’re interested in any – even if you don’t know if there are benefits out there, ask. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

When Pat Lau, Activities Coordinator for Webster House in Palo Alto, first created the Healthy Connections program in 2016, she had no idea the kind of impact it would eventually have.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just have a little volunteer program. They can work with the residents, meet them, talk to them,’” she says. “But it evolved into so much more.”

Now in its third year, Healthy Connections partners with Stanford University’s Office of Undergraduate Advising to provide pre-med students with a setting to gain clinical experience as well as giving residents in the Health Center the personal connections that studies continue to show are beneficial to people’s health and well-being.

Webster House and its affiliated Health Center are located just a mile away from Stanford University. With physicians from Stanford and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation making rounds at the Health Center daily, the program offers valuable experience for students interested in exploring the medical field.

In addition, the program exposes pre-med students to the need for, and importance of, geriatrics as a medical specialty. According to the American Geriatric Society, 20,000 geriatricians are required to keep up with the need right now, and that need will only grow as the population ages. There are currently fewer than 7,300 certified geriatricians practicing nationwide.

Volunteers for the Healthy Connection program must spend a minimum of three hours each week with the residents and at least 100 clinical hours at the Health Center. “Most of the students, though, work well beyond the hundred hours and some have gone on to two hundred hours,” according to Lau.

Students must be 18 years old, pass a criminal background check, be screened for tuberculosis, and attend an in-depth orientation. “There’s a number of regulations and things they need to know about if they’re going to be in a health care setting and working with a vulnerable population such as older adults,” Lau explains, including the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), patient rights, elder abuse, infection control, and safety procedures.

So far, 12 students have participated in the program. Four of the 12 students who have been through the program have been accepted to medical school.

“Everyone seemed to benefit,” Lau says. “The student was exposed to a clinical environment, but most of all, there was a very strong, caring, and reliable relationship.”

Healthy Connections recently received a Sereno Group 1% For Good grant from the Palo Alto office. 1% for Good provides grants to local organizations that are active in improving our communities. Sereno Group Palo Alto will be supporting Healthy Connections from July through September 2018.

Brian Chancellor from the Sereno Group says, ““We were intrigued and touched by the inter-generational experience between the students and the residents. It’s exciting to support them all in their care and cultivation of such a relationship when it is so greatly needed and appreciated.”

As the new school year begins at Stanford, students can anticipate another benefit of participating in the Healthy Connections program: Dr. Peter Pompei, a professor at the Stanford Medical School, general internist and geriatrician with 20 years of clinical experience, will serve as the program’s medical director, providing mentorship and support for the students.

But it’s the relationships built between the residents and students that most impresses Lau. “These students really help support these older adults. They improve the quality of their lives. And for me, I can’t tell you what I feel when I see some of these individuals smile.”

For more information on the Healthy Connections program, please contact Pat Lau at plau@covia.org.

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!”