Local Resident Plays Key Role at USC-VHH During Pandemic

Mary Virgallito
Mary Virgallito

Mary Virgallito’s fingerprints are all over USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.
Her title as infection preventionist means this isn’t a literal statement — she’ll sooner sanitize and wipe down a window than smudge a handprint on it — but rather metaphorical. Whether it’s food prep, janitorial service or surgery, if it happens at USC-VHH, it’s because the Glendale nurse gave it the thumbs-up.
“This involves every single aspect of what we do, even on the finance side,” Virgallito explained in a phone interview. “It’s something that I never really expected but you get a flavor for every aspect of how a hospital functions. You have to have a snapshot understanding of all of the disciplines. It’s really comprehensive. Many times people will ask me what I do and it’s hard to answer them in one sentence.” Continue reading “Local Resident Plays Key Role at USC-VHH During Pandemic”

Mayor Reflects on Armenian Genocide, 105 Years Later

Vrej Agajanian
Vrej Agajanian

By Vrej Agajanian
Special to the News-Press

On April 24, 105 years ago, 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children were murdered by the Ottoman Empire. Year after year on this day, hundreds of thousands of Armenians around the world usually join together to demand justice and pay respect to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. However, due to the extraordinary circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic and in this time of social distancing, April 24 was very different than in years past: No marches and no large public gatherings. Continue reading “Mayor Reflects on Armenian Genocide, 105 Years Later”

Portantino: ‘Every Idea’ on the Table for Recovery

In a recent public appearance — well, virtual public appearance — state Sen. Anthony Portantino offered a glimpse at what reopening California is slated to look like and how Sacramento is trying to prepare for it.
One of the few crystal clear details is that it’s going to be expensive. The state senator noted how on March 16 alone, state lawmakers appropriated through SB89 $1 billion in general fund dollars for the state’s disaster response to the COVID-19 pandemic and added in another $1.4 billion from the existing disaster response line item. Another item, SB117, applied similar relief to the state’s school districts that largely shut doors in March. Continue reading “Portantino: ‘Every Idea’ on the Table for Recovery”

Newspaper’s ‘Remarkable Legacy’ Will Be Preserved

Charlie Plowman
Charlie Plowman

For 115 years, Glendale residents have been able to read, enjoy, admire and sometimes disagree with what has appeared in their community newspaper, the Glendale News-Press.
I am pleased to be the new publisher of this esteemed publication, having been passed that torch by the previous owner, the California Times (the parent company of the Los Angeles Times).
When it was announced about two weeks ago that the final issue of the News-Press was upcoming, I simply couldn’t bear to see that happen. I felt that this newspaper’s remarkable legacy, dating back to 1905, needed to be preserved. To put the Glendale News-Press launch in historical perspective, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States, having followed William McKinley. As a nation, we were still nearly a decade away from becoming involved in World War I. That’s quite a history. Continue reading “Newspaper’s ‘Remarkable Legacy’ Will Be Preserved”

On the Town: Ascencia continues to help the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic

In 2018, Ascencia staff members read the names of 12 homeless people who passed away while on the streets the year prior. The staff members were outside Forest Lawn in Glendale.(Ruth Sowby Rands )
In 2018, Ascencia staff members read the names of 12 homeless people who passed away while on the streets the year prior. The staff members were outside Forest Lawn in Glendale.(Ruth Sowby Rands )

“Ascencia is not closed,” said Laura Duncan, the organization’s executive director. In fact, Duncan continued, “One hundred beds have popped up” for Ascencia’s homeless residents.

Currently, the organization’s staff cares for 45 men, women and children in Ascencia’s emergency shelter and 226 at-risk families in housing.

“We are grateful that our community shows up with donations of meals, cleaning supplies and funds,” Duncan said. “But we will continue to need the support of our community to get through.”

Since Ascencia’s annual gala, which had been scheduled for March 30, has been postponed, funds for essential services that would have been raised through the gala must now come from somewhere else.

A recent email to supporters listed meal donations needed for the 45 shelter residents who must shelter-in-place. That’s three meals a day, seven days a week.

Community members may email Faith Riley at friley@ascenciaca.org for questions or to coordinate dropping off groceries. Hygiene donations may be coordinated through Habon Nur at hnur@ascenciaca.org.

As of now, Ascencia’s general funding is being diverted to accommodate the coronavirus crisis. Many accommodations are now in place:

Outreach teams are working with Glendale, Burbank, West Hollywood, northeast Los Angeles and the County of L.A. to place people in temporary shelters and identify those displaying any symptoms for further care.

Ascencia case managers continue to work with clients remotely.

Ascencia’s hospital liaison continues to work with hospitals to identify high-cost, frequent hospital users.

Ascencia‘s housing location navigator continues to develop relationships with property owners and place people in permanent housing.

Ascencia’s emergency shelter continues to provide a safe place for 45 men, women and children. With the “Safer at Home” order extended, even more community support is needed.

For the past month, “95% of meals have been covered by the community,” according to Duncan.

Ascencia’s staff members are offering programs and services to clients via Zoom so that mental-health needs may be met, at least in part.

What is needed immediately are meals, masks and used computers — especially those with cameras for Zoom programs.

Also needed are volunteers for Ascencia’s new virtual volunteer program. For more information, email info@ascenciaca.org.

Ascencia made special mention regarding its client Daniel Johnson. He died in March — Ascencia’s first loss to COVID-19. Johnson was 52 years old. He lived on the streets of Glendale for over three years. He originally came to Ascencia during its 2012 winter shelter program.

Johnson was given monthly case management and maintained housing stability in Alhambra for almost two years before his passing.

Glendale residents now required to wear face masks whenever they leave home, exceeding L.A. County mandate

Prior to yesterday evening, Glendale residents were required to wear face masks when entering essential businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies. Following a decision by City Council on Tuesday, residents are now required to wear maks anytime they leave home. (Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press )
Prior to yesterday evening, Glendale residents were required to wear face masks when entering essential businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies. Following a decision by City Council on Tuesday, residents are now required to wear maks anytime they leave home. (Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press )

Glendale residents are now required by law to wear protective face coverings whenever leaving home, exceeding Los Angeles County’s mandate, as Glendale city officials attempt to rein in rising cases of the novel coronavirus.

The 4-1 vote by City Council members on Tuesday brought the city in line with Riverside and San Bernadino counties, which already have the requirement in place. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended people cover their face in public areas where social distancing is hard to maintain. Continue reading “Glendale residents now required to wear face masks whenever they leave home, exceeding L.A. County mandate”

Glendale Community College extends campus closure to end of semester

The Glendale Community College Garfield campus.(File Photo)
The Glendale Community College Garfield campus.(File Photo)

During Glendale Community College’s scheduled spring break, the school’s superintendent/president David Viar announced Tuesday that campuses will remain closed to students through the end of the current semester.

In an email to students, Viar said college officials had hoped the statewide stay-at-home order would be lifted in May. However, in order to provide some sense of certainty, the college announced remote learning will remain in place until a specific date — June 10, when the spring semester ends.

The community-college shutdown started on March 16, and instructors launched online learning on March 23.

The announcement comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday stay-at-home restrictions will remain in effect until further notice and highlighted six key indicators for altering the mandate in the near future.

“The overwhelming likelihood is that this status will also continue into summer. That decision, however, will be made based on the directions of state and L.A. County health officials,” Viar said in the email.

According to Newsom, social distancing and other precautions might stay in place even after the mandate is lifted, and it could include staggered start times, reconfigured classrooms and the continuance of online learning.

In the meantime, students are able to switch from letter grading to a pass-or-no-pass format. The latter means students could earn units but no grade points.

Last month, college officials announced students would have the option to withdraw from classes and receive refunds for enrollment and other related fees. Those who purchased spring-semester parking can also request a refund or use the parking pass when campus reopens.

“I am very proud of the outstanding work done by our faculty and staff to make the transition to remote learning as successful as possible, and I offer a big thanks to you for adapting to this unprecedented change,” Viar added.

Coronavirus pandemic prompts mental-health workers to connect virtually with students

Mental health

Three area school districts are keeping mental-health and wellness services available to students during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Antonio Guillem / Dreamstime)

As local school districts switch classrooms to online settings, mental-health workers also quickly pivoted to adjust student services.

Last week, officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and Office of Education sent an email to all school superintendents in the county, making student mental health a priority by providing contact information and resources.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, in partnership with First District PTA, echoed the same sentiment this past Saturday during a virtual family health forum, inviting therapists to answer questions.

Nora Chitilian, a marriage and family therapist based in Glendale, agreed to participate in the forum after Portantino called and said there were rising calls to suicide hotlines.

Through her practice, Chitilian said she’s seeing “teenagers or younger experience population grief … They’re feeling the loss of their freedom or lifestyle and some of the symptoms could be anger and frustration — snapping at parents, being rude or rebellious.”

She said she gives those students gratitude-journal assignments, mindfulness exercises and creative activities and helps them establish a daily routine.

Chitilian pointed out parents also need support — in particular those who lost their income, made huge changes in order to work from home or are struggling to fully utilize online resources for their special-needs children.

Lara Mekhitarian, a therapist based in La Crescenta who specializes in trauma, said she’s observed some clients who tend to have anxiety are feeling calmer during the health crisis.

“Their take on the situation is the whole world is on their level [of anxiety] now. But I’ve also seen a lot of people having trouble explaining why schools are closed and what this means to their kids,” Mekhitarian said.

She recommends breaking down appropriate information according to the age group and providing reassurances about safety, especially for younger children. She pointed out adolescents might need space to process their expectations of graduation ceremonies and other end-of-year activities being canceled.

Although the academic school year ends in about a month, three local school districts continue to provide mental-health and wellness services for their students while they balance home life and education.

Burbank Unified School District

Family Service Agency, or FSA, is a nonprofit that provides general mental-health counseling, and about 50 counselors support Burbank Unified students during the academic year.

Karissa Provost, FSA’s director, said counselors started calling every family assigned to them to offer phone counseling sessions when the district announced school closures. The agency is looking into possibly adding video-conferencing sessions in the future.

According to Taylor Foxhall, director of wellness centers at Burbank and Burroughs high schools, students can call or text a center if they need support.

During this time, students in counseling can reach out to their FSA counselors to access a free small food pantry. FSA is offering clients food packages they can pick up at the agency’s Burbank office, located at 2721 Burbank Blvd.

For the past few weeks, Burbank and Burroughs high school students who run the Student Advisory Mental Health Board have posted YouTube videos and live-streamed on Instagram about various mental-health topics from meditation to online learning tips.

The student board chair, Ariana Kretz, said they expect to continue to release videos and social-media posts every day starting next week. They also plan to partner with Teen Line, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center suicide prevention organization, to bring more online information to Burbank students.

Glendale Unified School District


The district’s Student Wellness Services Department continues to provide online and phone therapy sessions for students. About 45 interns studying for master’s degrees work under the district’s Intern Academy and connect with students to provide school counseling, social work and therapy services.

According to Dr. Ilin Magran, the department’s director, the interns serve about 500 students a year. During the past week, the department collected nearly 100 virtual-session consent forms, and she hopes the number will rise as families grow comfortable with online platforms.

The interns created a YouTube video last week introducing a series about social distancing and ways to deal with anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic. They plan to post a new video every Friday on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

The department is also conducting wellness checks — calling students to find out if they are safe and connecting to the school. The district’s website, gusd.net/health, has been updated with a coronavirus-related online booklet about coping skills and free activities, in addition to lists of alternative mental-health providers categorized by insurance and age groups.

Magran will also speak during a mental-health information session, hosted by the Toll Middle School PTA, at 5 p.m. on April 22 that will air live on the district’s Facebook page, with student wellness department staff, an educational consultant and local therapists as panelists.

After receiving emails about parents who are frustrated and distressed, Magran said the department also plans to launch a parent support group, featuring eight sessions in Armenian, English and Spanish.

La Cañada Unified School District


Elementary school counselors are providing mental-health and wellness resources that teachers have incorporated into their online lesson plans. For first- and second-graders, a lesson plan could include a presentation on how to show emotions appropriately.

According to La Cañada Unified’s Supt. Wendy Sinnette, the district employs comprehensive counselors who provide academic, college and socioemotional wellness support. They check in with students on their rosters through email and by phone.

The wellness center at La Cañada High School remains open remotely. Students can contact the center, and staff will guide students to access web-based resources, such as online lessons about mindfulness or counseling sessions conducted online with a licensed marriage and family therapist.

With a student population of about 4,000, the counseling department at La Cañada High has 13 full-time counselors, wellness staff and school psychologists while three counselors work out of elementary school sites.