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placeholder March 24, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA

LIFT-Levántate introduced itself to employees of Elder Care Alliance's AlmaVia of San Rafael at a Labor Day picnic. The healthy lifestyle program is rolling out in all Elder Care Alliance communities in the Bay Area.
Courtesy photo

Giving a life to those who care for others

Somebody brought spin cycles and a Zumba instructor to the Labor Day picnic.

Employees at AlmaVia of San Rafael were the first of the Elder Care Alliance employees to get a taste of a new program offered to those who work in the organization's senior housing communities. That "taste" has included bowls of fresh fruit in break rooms, exercise classes onsite and a new approach to taking care of those who take care of others.

Elder Care Alliance chose LIFT-Levántate to bring its community model of wellness to employees. After the start in San Rafael, employees in places like Mercy Retirement and Care Center and Salem Lutheran Home in Oakland, as well as AlmaVia of Union City, are being introduced to new ways of thinking about health.

Richard Waxman, executive director of LIFT-Levántate, said the program started off by looking at who the employees are, the challenges they face and the environment in which they work.

Health care jobs have challenges such as high turnover, high absenteeism — and reduced presenteeism. "When you're present, can you actually do your job?" Waxman said.

"People face a tremendous amount of economic challenges," he said. For many, English is a second language. Some hold more than one job. They may have limited access to fresh food in their neighborhoods, and few safe places to play.

"Our approach is a community approach," he said. Unlike some workplace programs, it does not rely on the employee having access to a computer at home.

In addition to connecting employees with community resources, LIFT brings information tables and classes to the workplace. Employees might be encouraged to sample smoothies that include kale as part of a "rethink your drink" conversation aimed at discouraging use of sugary drinks.

They also try to make it fun. Each facility has a regular all-staff meeting. What the staff doesn't expect, however, is to be up and dancing in a Zumba demonstration. "It's not what they usually do at an all-staff meeting," Waxman said.

In addition to stress reduction techniques, employees might be offered shopping tips, such as stick to the perimeter of the grocery store, or shop at the farmers market late in the afternoon for best deals.

Already there are changes in the centers. Salty snacks and sugared drinks that might have been available in the break room, for example, have been replaced with bowls of fresh fruit.

"We wanted the healthy choice to be the easy choice for the staff," he said.

Waxman said, "I give ECA so much credit," he said. "While they're giving care, we're giving care to the staff."

Not too long ago, residents were surveyed about the needs at the centers, said Rachel Main, director of life enrichment and memory care at Elder Care Alliance. One resident looked directly at the camera, Main recalled, and said, "You have to take care of yourself. If you don't take care of yourself, how can you possibly take care of us?"

The changes in the homes have not gone unnoticed, Main said. "Residents love it," she said. "At Salem Lutheran Home, there was a Zumba class. Ten residents circled around the dancers," Main said. One resident danced in place in her wheelchair.

"This joint is jumpin'," one remarked.

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