Atlanta nonprofit nursing home explains why private rooms are a big deal.
A.G. Rhodes, one of Atlanta’s oldest nonprofit organizations that operates three nursing homes in Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties, is transforming its Marietta location by constructing a new home and renovating its existing building to include private room accommodations for each resident. The transformation is part of the organization’s $37.5-million “Legacy of Care” capital campaign to create a new nursing home community accessible to those who are uninsured, underinsured and underserved, and that can be replicated throughout Georgia and across the nation.
“The antiquated nursing home model where most residents share rooms is not only undesirable, it’s unacceptable,” said A.G. Rhodes CEO Deke Cateau. “But because the majority of nursing home residents are reliant on Medicaid funding — which doesn’t cover the true cost of care, let alone private room accommodations — most of our nation’s nursing homes simply don’t have the funds for that kind of major reconstruction given current government reimbursements and regulations.”
As one of only a few nonprofit nursing home providers in the state, A.G. Rhodes uses fundraising as one way to supplement the cost of resident care and other initiatives that Medicaid doesn’t cover — such as its Legacy of Care campaign — to greatly enhance the quality of life for its residents. Through the leadership of its Board of Trustees and Board of Advisors, A.G. Rhodes has raised a large portion of its construction costs through philanthropy. Construction of the new building and renovations to the existing one are well underway and are expected to be completed by the end of this year.
“With nearly 120 years of operating in Atlanta, A.G. Rhodes has long relied on the generosity of our community to equip us with additional resources to provide exceptional care for our community’s most in need,” said David Perdue, Chair of the A.G. Rhodes Board of Trustees and great-great grandson of Amos Giles Rhodes, the organization’s namesake.
Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, which represents more than 5,000 nonprofit aging services organizations, says that COVID-19 has highlighted the urgency for systemic changes throughout aging services, including private room accommodations in nursing homes.
“COVID-19 brought to the forefront the critical infrastructure changes needed to protect our nation’s most vulnerable and underserved. While these changes won’t happen overnight, A.G. Rhodes is demonstrating how nursing home communities throughout the United States can be designed to nurture the health, safety, and wellbeing of older adults who need and deserve high-quality care and dignity as they age,” Sloan said.
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,” Cateau shared with Cobb In Focus during the campaign’s initial announcement.
A person-directed model
To take this person-directed model to the next level, A.G. Rhodes’ new Skilled Nursing And Memory Care Community will be designed to enhance service delivery while maximizing the everyday joys and comforts that come from being at home.
Residents will have private bedrooms which encircle inviting common areas, in contrast to the shared rooms and long corridors of traditional nursing homes. Communal spaces will be designed to encourage the spontaneous human interaction of daily home life, such as hosting family-style meals, playing a board game, or listening to music by the fireplace. Sunrooms, patios, and gardens will provide continuous access to natural light and the outdoors.
Transforming all semi-private rooms for short-term care into private rooms has long been a part of A.G. Rhodes’ strategic plan. Like many nursing homes across the country, A.G. Rhodes Cobb temporarily converted all double-occupancy rooms into private rooms to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus — taking resident occupancy from 95 percent to 70 percent. Campaign funds will make this transition permanent, enabling A.G. Rhodes to become more adaptable and resilient for future unforeseen health events. The addition of the Skilled Nursing and Memory Care Community will restore A.G. Rhodes’ capacity for resident occupancy to pre-pandemic levels while increasing operational capability for outpatient rehabilitation services in the existing building.
In addition to the newly constructed building which will include 72 private rooms, more than 100 rooms of the existing building will be transformed from two-bed units into 58 private studios. Each room will have a bedroom and sitting area and can easily transition into an isolation unit when needed. The remodeled rooms will be equipped with innovative technology, including a touch-screen application to support memory and engagement for elders at all levels of cognitive abilities — fostering independence and enabling virtual connection beyond the walls of the facility.
A game changer for the industry
Being able to provide these upgraded accommodations to residents and the Cobb community means the world to Cateau, as he told this publication in 2021. “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.”
Founded in 1904, A.G. Rhodes provides long-term and short-term care for more than 1,100 residents a year at its three locations (Marietta, Grant Park, and Wesley Woods). For more information about its Legacy of Care campaign, visit agrhodes.org/legacyofcare.