Southern Manor Retirement Inn recently replaced its van with a limousine. The silver, six-door Lincoln is one example of the personal care home's providing a higher than expected level of service. With Southern Manor staying full at 45 residents, this summer its owner-operators expanded their holdings to include a similar facility in a neighboring county and launched a companion care service.
When Ralph E. Cowart Jr., now a national board-certified assisted living administrator, and Alan W. Skipper, now a board-certified adult nurse practitioner, bought Southern Manor five years ago, it came with a van.
"The van's been great, but this just seems a little bit better way to provide that service," Cowart said. "When the residents go to the doctor, or anywhere that they need to go, it's a lot easier to get them in and out of that limousine, and it looks a lot better."
Cowart works at the facility day-in and day-out as its administrator, while Skipper is its chief nursing officer. Neither is above driving the limo, but various employees act as chauffeurs for the residents.
Besides doctor visits, the spacious car is used to take residents out to the movies, to the Averitt Center for the Arts to see plays, on shopping trips, for personal services such as manicures, or to social gatherings such as the Silver Lining Club, especially when it meets at nearby First Presbyterian Church.
With the number of assisted living and retirement facilities in Statesboro, and especially with Bethany Assisted Living Inc. now completing The Lodge at Bethany, a new 48-unit facility, an outside observer wondered if the limo was a move to stay competitive.
But Southern Manor is full, has a waiting list, and its owners expressed gratitude for the community's sustained positive response to what they offer. Cowart and Skipper said they aren't thinking of competition, only adding something by way of what they've always done in providing quality services.
"I think probably the main thing that makes us stand out is we're locally owned and operated, and there's a level of service that you get when you can walk in the front door and meet the owners," Cowart said.
Before purchasing the personal care home, Cowart worked as business development director for Gentiva Hospice. He came to know Southern Manor when his grandmother, the late Lois Tollison, was a resident there in her final years. Originally from Swainsboro, Cowart has a marketing degree from the University of Georgia, in addition to his assisted living administration credentials.
Skipper received his bachelor's degree in nursing from Georgia Southern University and his Master of Science- Adult Nurse Practitioner from Valdosta State University.
Having a nationally certified administrator is not a requirement for Georgia assisted living facilities, and few do. Having an advanced practice nurse such as a family nurse practitioner on staff "just to provide watchful oversight" isn't a requirement either, Skipper noted.
Southern Manor's other nurse, Grace Holloway, is a licensed practical nurse with 40 years of experience.
In June, Southern Manor launched Southern Manor Companion Care. This is a service provided primarily to individuals in their own homes. Caregivers can drive clients to doctor's appointments, prepare meals, provide bathing assistance and medication reminders, and do light housekeeping, Cowart said.
Julie Johnston directs the new program. She graduated from Georgia Southern in May 2014, having majored in child and family development with an emphasis in family services. She previously completed an internship at Southern Manor.
"Our typical clients are pretty able, more able to do for themselves," Johnston said.
Skipper called it "in-between care." The companion caregivers' services are also provided to some Southern Manor residents who need extra help.
Lakeview Manor purchase
In July, Skipper and Cowart completed their acquisition of Lakeview Manor, which is near Effingham Hospital in Springfield, just as Southern Manor is on Fair Road in sight of East Georgia Regional Medical Center. Lakeview Manor is also full, with 21 residents in its assisted living homes and six in its independent living cottages.
Unlike the van, which seated 12 people, Southern Manor's limo seats nine. But Lakeview Manor also has a limo, which can be called in from the sister facility, allowing 18 people to ride in style for major excursions, such as when Cowart, Skipper and Southern Manor activities director Judith Eastman take residents who are willing and able on quarterly trips to a restaurant, sometimes as far as Savannah.
"We've all ridden in it. Fantastic," said Jo Ann Gibson, a resident of Southern Manor who previously rode in the van but prefers the limo. "We like it; we love it; we want more of it," said her friend Lillian Todd.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.