Caring Long Term
There’s something exceptional about two of Statesboro’s senior living communities, Southern Manor Retirement Inn and the Gardens at Southern Manor (formerly Gentilly Gardens). Inside each residential facility, there’s an atmosphere of hopefulness and well-being not commonly associated with long term care facilities. The difference comes from the efforts of local owners Ralph Cowart and Alan Skipper, who together are creating a hospitality oriented brand of senior assisted living that keeps the residents engaged in life.
“We feel that seniors are our forgotten treasure,” said Cowart. “Alan and I have always enjoyed working with them because of our upbringing.”
Both Skipper and Cowart spent a large part of their childhoods with their grandparents. At a very young age, Cowart moved in with his grandparents and remained there for most of his youth.
“I was raised by my grandparents,” said Cowart. “I spent the day with my grandmother and my great aunt. All I knew growing up was little old ladies.”
Reared by a single mother, Skipper remembers staying with his grandparents often, too.
Because of these family experiences, the two share a strong commitment for making life more enjoyable for the seniors living in their care. But, the two didn’t actually meet until both were adults working in the industry.
Cowart attended public schools in Emanuel County and graduated from Swainsboro High School in 2004. He graduated from Ogeechee Technical College’s funeral service program and attended the University of Georgia before joining his family’s business, Johnson Funeral Homes. After a few years, Cowart decided the funeral business wasn’t for him and pursued a career in Long Term Care and Rehabilitation Care Administration. He served as the director of business development for Gentiva Hospice, where he met Skipper, who at the time was serving as regional clinical director.
Skipper grew up in Effingham County and obtained an Associate’s Degree in Nursing from the College of Coastal Georgia. He pursued his RN at Georgia Southern graduating in 2008. Skipper went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Nursing with a focus on adult health, with a concentration in geriatrics from Valdosta State University in 2012. He attended the University of Massachusetts, Boston, to obtain certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner. Skipper is currently enrolled in the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, working toward a Doctorate of Nursing Practice Degree. He graduates in August 2017. His dissertation focuses on dementia and depression in the elderly and how they coexist.
While Cowart and Skipper were working at Gentiva, it was determined that Cowart’s grandmother could no longer care for herself on her own. She needed to move to an assisted living facility. Cowart chose Statesboro’s Southern Manor, then owned by Kay Wilds, as a good location because his job as director of business development for Gentiva meant a lot of travel west of I-95.
“I chose Southern Manor because if felt more like home,” said Cowart. “After one week of Grandmother living there, Kay offered to sell to us and we decided to buy.”
In 2011, Skipper and Cowart became the owners of Southern Manor. They expanded with the purchase of Lakeview Manor Community in Springfield in 2015, the same year they started Southern Manor Companion Care, an in-home assisted living service. In 2016, they purchased Gentilly Gardens renaming it The Gardens at Southern Manor, located on Gentilly Road in Statesboro.
“We find it helpful to provide a more humane and personalized setting for seniors who need some assistance with daily living, but who will thrive in a setting with proper medication management, nutritious meals, and carefully structured social activities,” said Skipper.
“We decided early on to treat every resident as if he or she was our grandparent,” said Cowart “We never have to worry as long as our residents are treated well.”
At the Inns residents are treated to a slate of activities from which to choose. There are animal therapy sessions with turtles, birds, cats, dogs and bunnies. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are “Dinner and a Movie” nights. A visiting artist provides art therapy twice a month. Every Sunday at 4:00 p.m., Deacon Ed Boulineau from Statesboro’s Primitive Baptist Church holds a service for the residents. On Mondays, for the past 25 years, ladies from the church entertain with singing. On Tuesdays, Donna Brigman entertains on the piano after lunch, and residents also participate in the Silver Lining Club on Saturdays at the First Presbyterian Church. There are craft activities, games, and Bible studies led by Pastor Sam of St. Pauls Lutheran Church.
Resident’s rooms contain furnishings from home and amenities include fresh towels and trash changes daily. There are no “level of care” fees; all residents receive the same. A dedicated bath person assists residents in their private baths, and all amenities are included in the cost of care. Instead of vans, residents are transported to doctor appointments and on outings in the company’s chauffeured limousine.
“We laugh and say, ‘We offer everything from bunnies to bingo,’” said Cowart.
“We are diligent about keeping our residents active,” said Skipper.
The residents are given opportunities to remain active and engaged, both within the facilities and outside in the community. Residents are treated to excursions to the Averitt Center for the Arts; trips to the beach on Tybee Island; a visit to Roosevelt’s Little White House – “If they come up with a place they’d like to visit, we will try to take them,” said Cowart.
Earlier this year, residents of the two Statesboro facilities came together to form a Golden K Kiwanis Club. Jean Braswell serves as president of 20+ members and the meetings rotate between Southern Manor and The Gardens. Residents have put together “thank-you” gift bags for the public safety community, and supported Statesboro in the America’s Best Communities competition by wearing blue and cheering the team on video.
Keeping the residents active and engaged is part of creating a positive atmosphere, the other part is a committed ownership and staff.
“We work with a great group of people who feel as we do – that working with the senior population is a calling,” said Skipper.
In addition to owners Cowart and Skipper, other administrators include Reagan Daly as Director of The Gardens at Southern Manor, Lauren Fowler as Director of Companion Care, Michael Daly serves as FNP Consultant, Grace Holloway is Director of Health Services, and Betty Terrell is head of nursing at The Gardens.
For the staff, each morning begins with a “stand-up” prayer and a sharing session on the night’s activities and what to expect during the coming day. Over 65% of staff members have been employed for ten or more years. “We have a very dedicated group of people on staff who really care about our residents. Our resident to staff ratio is the best in town,” said Skipper.
“We have 11 people during the day, that’s one staff person for every four residents.”
“We started with 36 beds. We now have three buildings, 108 residents and 30 people on home care,” said Cowart. For the future, the partners may be looking at acquiring more facilities.
“Our greatest challenge is meeting the demand,” said Skipper. “We just want to help everybody. If we had 40 more rooms, we could fill them.”
“We have really enjoyed the support and trust of the community,” said Cowart. “People in Statesboro have been really good to us. There is not a better place to call home.”