It was over 50 years ago that Doug Maund, founder of Athens Pharmacy, and the late Dr. William Pennington, a well known and beloved “country doc” in the truest sense teamed up to found the long-term and rehabilitation facility at 611 Market Street now known as Athens Health And Rehabilitation LLC. The place has been remodeled, added on to, and has gone through a number of name changes to reflect the changes in the industry; this past April broke ground on a new facility on the east side of AHR that will be known as the Restore Therapy Pavilion.
I spoke with Lory Walmsley, Admissions Coordinator at Athens Health and Rehab, who told me that the old concept of “nursing home” has been replaced with more of an emphasis on rehab. So whether people are able to return to their homes outside the facility, or end up making AHR their home, they are functioning at their best, and their quality of life is the highest possible. AHR does its best to be the best possible long-term and/or rehab facility anywhere in the Tennessee Valley. “People don’t understand that the importance of therapy is greater than just about anything else in this type of facility. There is speech therapy, occupational, physical and memory therapy, and more. Those are what make it possible for people to go home, and live well if they stay,” she emphasized.
Since Northport Health Services took over the center, a lot of hard work and re-vamping has gone into making the place essentially brand new. “It really is a total change, and we want to get away from the old stigmas,” said Lory. “People don’t realize that ‘convalescing’ is no longer our goal, rehab is, and we have a new rating and essentially a whole new facility,” she said. AHR now has a four-star rating with CMS, the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services, a government agency, as well as five stars with Quality Measures, the system of reporting and performance standards with CMS. She gave AHR an insider’s thumbs up by saying, “If I could no longer take care of myself and needed to be in a long-term facility for the rest of my life, this is where I would want to be. I wouldn’t change a thing. The residents are so much our family that our kids come here on holidays to be with their ‘other grandparents.’”
Linda Sams, who is the Administrator of Athens Health and Rehab echoed Lory’s sentiments. “We have such caring, compassionate staff who are really committed to the patients. I have had people walk in, and their first response is, ‘You can feel the love when you watch the interaction between residents.’” Linda is a RN, and her official certification is LNHA, Licensed Nurse Hospital Administrator. She further underscored her statement by saying, “Our director of nursing has been here over 30 years.”
Still, I had to ask them, “Why should I come to you, either for my own care or on the behalf of a parent?” “We are the closest facility to the hospital, if there is an urgent need,” said Linda. She added, “The nursing staff has the backing of a corporation to manage any kind of acuity. We have a physician on site two times a week who is also on-call 24/7. We have a nurse practitioner here 40 hours a week, and that is unusual. We have also upgraded the written procedures and protocols, so there’s more accountability.”
Linda and Lory went on to tell me about the new rehab center, the Restore Therapy Pavilion. It is going to have its own entry and exit, and will essentially be closed off from the long-term facility. There will be a 1200-square-foot gym, offices, a conference room, and a large commons. “This is strictly short-term, where the average stay will be from 20-30 days,” said Linda. Additionally, Lory mentioned that “[t]he equipment will be state of the art, and there will be room for all of it. Depending on the weather, the new building should be ready in 8-10 months.”
The next day I spoke at length with Nathan McGriff, who is the Rehabilitation Director at Athens Health. Nathan’s parents are both nurses, and he grew up in Sulligent. “I was always around the medical profession,” he said, “and at first I thought I would do high-level sports rehab and therapy.” He has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Jacksonville State, and then received his PTA certification from Wallace State. He has 11 years of experience with everything from athletes to geriatrics, and says that his favorite thing to witness and be a part of is “to see someone come in not very responsive, and then see them be able to function again.” Most of those who come to the Rehab part of AHR are either stroke victims or have had knee or hip replacements.
Nathan told the story of a “graduation” that was just held in the rehab wing whose description brought a lump to my throat. “A stroke patient came in who was in such poor shape that at first we met with the family to discuss the possibility of only keeping their loved one comfortable, and not pursue treatment, due to a nearly complete inability to swallow. We all decided to wait a week and then make a definitive plan. That patient responded so well in a week, and after 100 days of treatment, that when they “graduated,” they walked out to the car (with a walker), and were able to speak.” The staff and other patients lined the hall, and Nathan said, “Someone even provided a cap and gown for the ceremony.”
He told of the individualized care plan that each patient receives, including a “how to” manual for when they go home. He also makes a point of spending one-on-one time with each rehab patient within 24 hours of their arrival. Nathan is always available by phone to discharged patients and their families. “While they are with us, we find out what makes them ‘tick,’ including likes, dislikes, interests and goals, and use that to motivate them.” There are often so many things to address, such as swallowing, cognition issues, medicine management, the need for a consistent routine, and more. Those who have had joint replacements work on strengthening, stabilizing, and balance. Those with occupational therapy needs to learn to feed themselves again, get dressed, bathe, etc. and can’t go home until they do. It’s important to know that if a patient cannot, for example, re-learn to turn over in bed, their caregiver will receive all the training that they need to do it for them prior to discharge.
An exciting feature of the new Therapy Pavilion will be a full kitchen and bathroom. This will be the testing ground for those that are good candidates to return to unassisted living, and it’s a fun one. “They might make brownies,” said Nathan, and have the satisfaction of creating something delicious, as well as demonstrate the level of their recovery. Most likely in the new gym there will be a suspension system and harness that can be a part of learning to walk again. Because the system is attached to the ceiling, the patient literally cannot fall, and gets to experience the satisfaction of being able to walk unaided at a much earlier point in their rehabilitation.
I asked Nathan why I should come to the Pavilion myself, or have a needy parent receive care there. He said, “I treat everyone like they are my grandmother or grandfather. We pay close attention to the level of care, make sure there are proper progressions, and that there is good communication between staff, patients, and families. I rely heavily on my team, and we all feel that it is our team.” If this is the kind of care for which you are looking, either for yourself or a loved one, then call Athens Health and Rehabilitation LLC today at 256-232-1620 to schedule a tour, and be on the lookout for more announcements regarding special summer activities to come.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner