[SPONSORED CONTENT: This story was written by Robin DeMonia of Direct Communications for Sylacauga Health and Rehab]
Sylacauga, Ala. – With Father’s Day just weeks away, Valerie Scoggins sat next to Ray Stephenson in his assisted living apartment at Sylacauga Health and Rehab Services, and helped him share stories accumulated over 93 years.
These stories took Stephenson from his native Texas to Alabama, then from Birmingham to Childersburg, where he put down deep roots, raised five children and continued to work until he was 86.
For Stephenson, some of the memories along the way have faded. But his eyes still shine as Scoggins recounts family lore from his time as an Air Force aviation mechanic, door-to-door salesman, farmer and owner/handyman of dozens of rental homes in the Sylacauga/Childersburg area. .
“You were a jack of all trades,” Scoggins said.
“And a master of none,” Stephenson replies with a broad smile.
Scoggins had the day off and was simply visiting as the daughter of a “super good man”. But she is also the director of clinical services for Noland Health Services, which owns Sylacauga Health and Rehab as well as the nearby Spring Terrace assisted living facility.
She considers it a blessing to work at a facility that served her mother before her death and continues to serve her father. “It’s actually been kind of comforting to me because I know how they’re taken care of and I can check on them easily,” Scoggins said.
Scoggins’ experience is not entirely unique. In small town healthcare facilities, family ties are not uncommon – and indeed, the sense of family connection often goes far beyond blood.
The greater community of Sylacauga recently voted Spring Terrace “Best of Coosa Valley” among assisted living facilities, and Sylacauga Health and Rehab received the same recognition in the skilled nursing category. But for staff, residents and their families, what sets the two facilities apart is the ties to their hometowns that unite them all.
“My husband’s teacher is here. The ladies who took care of me when I was 4, it’s up to us to take care of them now. I learned my ABCs from a lady and got to hold her hand when she died,” said Shannon Faircloth, executive director of Sylacauga Health and Rehab. “It just shows how life revolves around.”
Many employees are like Faircloth. They grew up in the area, know the residents and their families, and have invested years of their lives in jobs that keep them firmly rooted in their community. “I walk down the hall and people say, ‘You look like your mom,'” Faircloth said. “It’s literally home away from home.”
Holidays don’t go unnoticed here, and for the days that aren’t holidays, well, everyone likes to make them special too.
For Father’s Day this weekend, there will be ‘Floats for Fathers’, a social event featuring root beer floats. In the coming weeks there will be a petting zoo and a fishing adventure at the facilities pond. This year, on Mother’s Day weekend, there were “Muffins for Moms” as well as an ice cream social hosted by a resident’s family member.
April Duncan’s mother, Barbara Bailey, has multiple sclerosis and has lived at Sylacauga Health and Rehab since 2009. The ice cream party, scheduled to last one hour, lasted five hours, and Duncan didn’t care. everything.
“It’s as much for the staff as it is for the residents,” Duncan said. “They are so grateful. Their job is not easy.
Duncan, who now lives in Georgia, has classmates who work at the facility and she has become close with the entire staff. His family’s Christmases are celebrated on site with them. Her husband, Edwin, asked for her hand at the nursing home in front of a room full of residents, family and staff who help orchestrate the proposal. But what matters most to Duncan are the daily social activities like bingo and crafts that keep his mother smiling despite her physical limitations.
“She has a good life. We didn’t realize what she was missing until she experienced life here,” Duncan said. “My mother said to me, ‘I don’t know what they would do without me here.’ She feels important to them. She feels needed. She feels loved. She is not afraid. She knows that if she gets sick, they will take care of her.
On the contrary, these ties were strengthened during the COVID crisis when families could not visit.
“They were the ones who would walk by and pat my mom’s foot and leave her that human touch when no one else could,” Duncan said. “Staff have looked for every possible way to safely engage residents – physically, always, but also emotionally.”
Scoggins’ father first came to Spring Terrace in 2015 because of his mother, whose mind and physical health had begun to decline. Stephenson recognized that his wife needed more help than he could provide, and he was the first to admit it. He continued to be equally lucid about his own growing needs over the years.
“Throughout his life, he always knew where he needed to be. He’s been such a soldier through it all,” Scoggins said. “The greatest comfort for both of us is knowing that someone is there to help him when he needs it.”
Faircloth said some staff members spend decades on the job and, in a small community, they regularly meet relatives of their residents at the grocery store and elsewhere. Their bonds are often eternal, forged not only in happy times, but also in difficult times – perhaps the initial difficult decision to seek care or the painful moments at the end of a life.
“We are becoming families for families,” Faircloth said.