A.G. Rhodes kicks off its Legacy of Care campaign
By Lindsay Field Penticuff
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for older people, not just in America, but around the world. Nursing homes and other elder care facilities have been impacted heavily by this rapidly spreading virus and unfortunately, that was the same for A.G. Rhodes here in Cobb.
“It really strained us and brought us to the brink,” shares Deke Cateau, CEO at A.G. Rhodes. “Each life lost was something we took personally, but it strengthened our resolve to fight COVID-19.”
A.G. Rhodes, which also has a location in Atlanta near Grant Park and one on Emory’s Wesley Woods campus, has reported 250 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, 74 at the Cobb location; and 26 deaths because of COVID-19, 12 of which were residents at Cobb. “The difficulty we had was the abundance of semi-private rooms,” Cateau says. “Most of our residents’ rooms have shared accommodations, and because of that, COVID-19 spread almost like a wildfire throughout the community.”
Another difficulty of battling the virus at A.G. Rhodes is that about 50 percent of its residents are living with dementia, and research suggests that those living with a loss of cognitive function are twice as likely to contract COVID-19.
This led to isolation, which also took a toll on residents. “Our elders had to stay in their rooms,” Cateau says. “There were no visitations with families. There were very few group activities, which we’ve become so accustomed to in the nursing home.”
Cateau adds that this was extremely difficult and against everything they believe in as an organization. They thrive on providing person-directed care for their residents, offering activities and programs that help nurture long-lasting relationships. “For all these years, we’ve been able to foster better quality care. So, for me, shutting down the nursing home went against so many of the principles and norms we know as a nursing home provider. But we had to for the health and safety of our residents and staff,” says Cateau.
Coming back stronger than ever
While Cateau and his staff can’t predict if or when there will ever be another pandemic like this one, they are doing their best to make sure their residents are living in an even safer environment in the future.
Just before the pandemic shut down the country in early 2020, A.G. Rhodes Cobb was geared up to launch the Legacy of Care campaign in April 2020. The purpose of the project is to: Keep residents safe, including private room accommodations to better protect them from infectious diseases; honor the dignity of a resident’s aging experience, especially for those living with dementia; and move away from the institutionalized environment so the community can strengthen its person-directed philosophy of care.
“What we are creating is a model of care in an environment that can be replicated throughout Cobb County, metro Atlanta, and the region,” shares Cateau.
The pandemic disrupted their plans for the original launch, but even during one of the most difficult times in recent history, A.G. Rhodes Cobb still was able to raise $3 million of its $10 million goal during the preliminary phase of the campaign. “This is a really, really good start for us. But as they say, it takes a village,” Cateau adds. “So, not only as a non-profit are we depending on the donors closest to the organization to help raise these funds, we also are starting to leverage relationships in the Cobb community and share this campaign with the public.”
Once complete, the Legacy of Care campaign will help the organization build a new skilled nursing and memory care community on its existing campus with 72 private rooms for residents living with dementia. Additionally, significant renovations to the existing building will include private accommodations tailored for residents receiving inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services. “We have seen such a significant growth in the number of people living with dementia, so we want to build accommodations that would allow us to better care for them,” shares Cateau.
Many residents at A.G. Rhodes are those Cateau describes as being underserved and underinsured. “We want to give them a dignity of life that isn’t available in many nursing homes today,” he says.
A.G. Rhodes Cobb has a capacity to serve a total of 130 residents. Because of COVID-19 restrictions and isolation requirements, the facility’s occupancy has dropped from about 95 percent to 70 percent.
In its current model, there are long hallways and each area houses 40-plus residents. The new facility and renovations will serve what is referred to as a “household model” of care. Each “home” will include 12 residents, each having their own private bedroom. Each household will also have a centralized community kitchen, as well as a small dining room designed for family-style meals. “Each household will have a sunroom to connect residents to the outdoors, in addition to outdoor gardens,” Cateau adds. “Each household also will have a living room with a beautiful sitting area.”
Being able to provide these upgraded accommodations to residents and the Cobb community means the world to Cateau. “What we are about to do in Cobb County is going to be a game changer for the industry and for so many of our elders in the community. It’s going to offer not just the type of accommodations they deserve, but the type of care they deserve. It’s the proudest time in my career.”
The new facility will offer training and job opportunities for students at Chattahoochee Technical College, Kennesaw State University, and surrounding high schools through workforce development programs. Cateau says they collaborate with each of these organizations and schools to help train students who he hopes may one day work at A.G. Rhodes Cobb. “This is an opportunity for us to come back stronger than ever,” Cateau concludes. “While a crisis is negative by nature, we want to be able to use it to allow us to improve, change, and build back better than ever before.”