Kaiser Permanente creates record-breaking team

Almost 1,000 employees, family members and friends have joined the Kaiser Permanente team for the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Nov. 10. This is the largest single team to have ever participated in a Walk to End Alzheimer’s event anywhere in the country.

Remouz Malek-Zadeh is part of the Kaiser Permanente team, walking in memory of her mother, Bika. While Bika died from Alzheimer’s in 2011, Remouz routinely feels her mother’s influence in her life.

Memories of her mom
Remouz shared that Bika filled their house with an abundance of love and warmth when she was growing up. Bika loved to sew, knit, cook, bake and garden. She could create an extraordinary design out of the simplest of materials.

Bika was a deeply religious and caring woman. She lived a life of compassion, acceptance and understanding. Her great passion in life was to help others.

Issues with cooking
Bika’s husband, Anis, first became concerned when Bika had a hard time cooking. She began to burn the food. Initially, Remouz didn’t believe that there was a problem.

Remouz, Bika and family

One day in 2006, Remouz received a call from the grocery store. Her mother had taken candy bars from the shelf, ate part of them and then put them in her purse without paying. This was very unlike her honest mother.

When Remouz went to the store, the employees were very kind. They suggested that she talk to Bika’s doctor about the experience. The doctor diagnosed Bika with dementia and later changed the diagnosis to Alzheimer’s.

I will care for Mom
When Remouz was dating her husband, Jacob, she had told him that if something happened to her father, she would want to take care of her mother. He’d told her that they would be a team.

In 2007, Remouz’s father died. Anis and Bika had been married almost 65 years. Bika moved in with Remouz, Jacob, and their sons, Luke and Mark.

Their caregiving journey
Remouz looked for ways to help her mother continue to enjoy life. For a while, she could still knit, so Remouz would bring her yarn.

Bika and Remouz

They established routines. Bika had a sweet tooth. When she had a medical appointment, Remouz would schedule it in the morning. After the appointment, they would go to the bakery.

Remouz acknowledges that it was hard in the beginning. Her mother would wander away from the house or forget to turn off the stove.

As the disease progressed, sometimes Bika thought that Remouz was her mother. They considered moving her mother into a residential care community, but the family decided to keep Bika at home.

Jacob, Luke and Mark helped Remouz care for Bika. Remouz greatly appreciates how caring and loving they all were to Bika.

They hired caregivers and enrolled Bika in an adult day program, so that they could ensure her safety. She died in November of 2011.

Remouz shared that there are many events in her life that still help her feel her mother’s presence. Recently, after a long search and visits to many shelters, her sons got a puppy. When they went to find out the puppy’s birthdate for its veterinary record, they discovered that the puppy was born on Bika’s birthday.

From volunteer to employee to walker
Remouz had been volunteering at Kaiser Permanente while caring for her mother. The week before her mother died, Kaiser Permanente offered Remouz a full-time job.

Currently, she works in the anesthesia department. One aspect of her job is to represent her department on Kaiser Permanente’s Wellness Committee. It was through this group that she first heard about the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

In discussing how to promote the Walk, which takes place on November 10, Remouz suggested that they encourage people to be part of the “month of giving.”

Participating in a fundraising event is new to Remouz. She has shared information about the Walk on Facebook and was pleased when friends and family donated.

Luke, who is in college at UC Santa Barbara, donated to the Walk to honor his grandmother. Other friends and family have signed up to Walk with Remouz.

Community giving to enhance wellness
Katarina Matejkova has worked for Kaiser Permanente for 17 years. Earlier this year, she became the Project Manager for Employee Wellness at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco.

A former professional swimmer, Katarina has a passion for wellness. She focuses not just on physical wellness, but on other aspects, such as emotional, social and financial wellness.

Katarina credits her grandmother with inspiring her desire to give back to the community. “My grandma taught me that the best feeling you get is when you give something to others,” shared Katarina. “Giving is the secret to a happy life.”

A spark of an idea
In her new role, Katarina wanted to incorporate a way for employees to give back to the San Francisco community. Around that time, Guy Chicoine, Medical Group Administrator approached her with an idea.

2017 San Francisco Walk

In 2017, Guy had led a Kaiser Permanente team for the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Guy participates in honor of his father. That year, about 40 people participated.

Guy suggested to Katarina that they try and get more Kaiser Permanente employees in San Francisco to participate in the Walk. Katarina was familiar with the impact Alzheimer’s has on families from prior experience helping in assisted living communities.

It fits with the mission
The leadership at Kaiser Permanente was supportive from the beginning. Improving the health of communities is part of Kaiser Permanente’s mission.

It made sense for them to lend support to an incurable disease that impacts so many of their members. They also understand that people like to work for a company that supports the community. Kaiser Permanente is also a sponsor of the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

As Katarina talked with Guy, other Kaiser Permanente leaders and Alzheimer’s Association staff, she knew that it could be a good fit. “Participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a way for Kaiser Permanente employees to celebrate our commitment to wellness, support an important cause & strengthen our community,” shared Katarina.

Make it easy and fun to build the team
Katarina thought about how to entice more of her co-workers to participate in the Walk this year. She was confident that if she created the right conditions, people would support it.

Kaiser Permanente holds an annual Fall Wellness Festival. This event for employees, families and guests draws over 3,000 participants. Katarina decided to hold the Fall Wellness Festival on the same day as the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

In the morning, employees and their guests will participate in the Walk, getting physical activity and supporting the community. After the Walk, employees and their family or friends will attend Kaiser’s Fall Wellness Festival. Guests will enjoy food, music and activities such as Zumba, soccer skills training, t-shirt painting and a putting green contest. She knew that with this combination, she could grow the team.

Recruiting walkers
Katarina likes to set high goals. Since over 3,000 people usually attend the Wellness Festival, she set a goal of recruiting 1,500 people to join the Kaiser Permanente Walk team.

Kaiser Permanente has a Wellness Committee, with representatives from different departments, such as Remouz. They met and talked about how to get the word out throughout the organization.

Here are a few ways they have been promoting participation in the Walk:

  • Sending out companywide emails inviting people to join the team
  • Sharing within individual departments (by Wellness Committee leaders)
  • Promoting the Walk in meetings of managers
  • Providing tips to team members on how to update their Walk participant profile, create a Facebook Walk fundraiser and invite friends to support them
  • Holding a lunch and learn presentation from the Alzheimer’s Association. At the session, Remouz shared her family’s story.

Watch the slideshow Remouz shared with her colleagues.

Initially, employees had a lot of questions about the Walk. The enthusiasm of Katarina and the other wellness leaders helped encourage others to sign up. As the team has grown, people have become more excited.

Almost 1,000 people have already joined the team, setting a record for the largest Walk to End Alzheimer’s team in the country. So far, their team has raised over $2,500.

Excited to show their support
As Walk day approaches, Katarina is getting very excited. “I can’t wait to see the entire San Francisco community at the Walk,” said Katarina. “The great feelings people will get from participating in this event with their friends and family will last a long time.”

Remouz is very happy that the Kaiser Permanente leadership chose to support the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “I feel very proud that we are participating,” shared Remouz. “I know how hard it is when someone in your family develops Alzheimer’s.”

Remouz looks at the Walk as a way to show love for those with the disease, caregivers and those who have died from Alzheimer’s and other dementias. She hopes that supporting the Alzheimer’s Association will lead to a treatment or cure in the future.

You can join the Kaiser Permanente Walk team or form your own team for the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s on November 10.

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