Southeast Georgia care centers set up cottages for senior visits

ST. MARYS, Ga. – Southeast Georgia Health System’s Senior Care Centers in Brunswick and St. Marys have gotten creative in finding ways to reunite families with loved ones living in long-term care facilities -- which have been under a visitor ban since the coronavirus pandemic reached Georgia six months ago.

Outside of each facility stands cottages to provide some normalcy and connect families more than a window visit or call.

Senior Care St. Marys told News4Jax there is a screening process for visitors, including a temperature check and a series of questions, but they do not need to be tested for the virus.

It’s a more personal and private visit. Maxine Williams is entering the front of the cottage to visit her 89-year-old mother Betty Cason, who enters from the back.

“This is just going to be better all the way around because it’s more inviting more of a caring aspect when you have that privacy to speak to one another,” Williams said.

Cottages outside Southeast Georgia Health System’s Senior Care Centers in St. Marys.
Cottages outside Southeast Georgia Health System’s Senior Care Centers in St. Marys. (WJXT)

Other than a brief visit in the emergency room, it’s been six months since they last had a quality visit, which made Thursday’s visit very special.

Williams had been doing window visits, but it’s just not the same. She had a shirt printed from one of those visits.

“I wore the shirt today because I wanted to do a comparison about how wonderful this is I’ll actually be able to sit with her instead of talking to her through the glass window,” Williams said.

To make it comfortable, provide privacy and prevent the spread of the virus, the cottages are in a climate control environment, it also provides shelter from the weather. A plexiglass shield is also installed, which it stops short of the ceiling to make it easier to hear.

“Isolation was already one of the biggest challenges for long term care and elder care facilities prior to COVID-19. COVID-19 made an already challenging situation worse with mandated shelter in place orders eliminating regular family visits for the past six months,” said Rhondia Grant, long-term care administrator at Senior Care Center-St. Marys.

Grant said right now, the cottage is limited to compassionate visitors meaning -- residents who have shown signs of emotional isolation or have been hospitalized, family members who live far away and for end-of-life visits.

When asked about the feedback, Grant said, “It has been remarkable. So positive. It is good to see the families and the residents especially smiling and they seem hopeful.”

The facility had four COVID-19 cases and all have recovered. Now the center has been coronavirus free since June with weekly tests for all residents and staff.

Williams said her mom’s facility, Senior Care St. Marys, is going above and beyond and she hopes this will lead the way for other facilities to follow suit. The Senior Care Center in Brunswick has four visitor cottages and St. Marys has two.

Families must schedule the 15 minute visit. Cottages are cleaned after every use.

Senior Care St. Marys said the sky is the limit as they are try to come up with ways where families can physically touch. One idea is using gloves, similar to how it works in the NICU.

The cottages are small, but activities specialist Chasitee Chambers hopes they will have a big impact on the residents' well-being. Many residents are already excited, which makes Chambers feel supported by the Health System’s efforts.

If you would like to brighten a resident’s day, contact the Senior Care Centers at 912-265-8528 in Brunswick or 912-882-4281 in St. Marys to ask how you can help.

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