It wasn’t too many years ago that the Rome Floyd Chamber started a campaign to market Rome and Floyd County as a wonderful retirement community.

The folks at Berry College certainly bought into that concept with their plans to develop The Spires at Berry College.

When the COVID-19 health care crisis started to escalate, seniors — particularly those with an underlying health issue from asthma and bronchitis to diabetes — were included in the high risk groups. Then it became very apparent that the novel coronavirus was one of the most easily spread viruses to come down the pike and the potential for problems in large retirement communities became obvious.

The first tenants to move into The Spires are still scheduled to move in around June 1, according to Greenbrier Development, the firm that will oversee operations of the continuing care retirement community.

Morgan Lamphere, vice president of marketing, said that 55 units in the Apartments West, closest to Redmond Road, will be the first to welcome residents to their new homes. The 26 cottages on the campus will also open around June 1.

“As of today, at 1:48 Thursday afternoon, the construction site is still open,” Lamphere said. “The construction team at Brasfield & Gorrie is working full speed ahead.”

Future residents have already started to schedule move-in dates.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that almost every person that was planning to move in June or July is continuing with those plans,” Lamphere said.

She said many of The Spires’ new residents have been in the process of downsizing for the past year or more. Some of them have already sold their previous homes and are renting while waiting to move to Rome.

Greenbrier, which manages retirement communities across the country, has taken a cue from its other communities as it moves forward with plans at The Spires.

“We always have emergency plans in place for communicable diseases. In the past that meant something like norovirus and so you have policies and procedures in place to protect other residents,” Lamphere said.

She said that in their other communities, when residents do venture off campus they are very protective of them coming back on campus.

“We monitor that more closely. Our communities are getting really creative with this,” Lamphere said. “We bring individual birthday cakes to residents, or individually decorated anniversary cakes.”

Berry Vice President for Finance Brian Erb, who doubles as treasurer for The Spires, said the chance for students to interact with the senior residents — and work in different components of the operation — is a primary reason Berry agreed to sponsor the retirement community.

“Nothing in these current events would change our mind on that,” Erb said. “Whether it’s temperature checks for every single person that comes into the community, which is something that Greenbrier is doing at their other facilities, but we will be highly sensitive to any safety precautions. Not just for our students but also for the residents there.”

Several other large retirement living communities have sprung up in Floyd County over the years.

The Renaissance Marquis across from Georgia Highlands College is one. The original Charles William Real Estate Winthrop Senior Living Center at U.S. 411 East and Chateau Drive is another.

Winthrop is one of the first retirement communities that’s not strictly a nursing home or extended care facility, but an actual independent living development.

Charles Williams of Charles Williams Real Estate said the senior living center has evolved over the years. Assisted living and memory care facilities are on the same campus with a skilled nursing center owned by a third party healthcare provider.

Williams acknowledged that his Winthrop Court, with 81 units, and Winthrop Memory Care, 16 units, have faced a challenge to maintain supplies of hand sanitizers, masks and eye shields. But he said the facilities do have an adequate supply at this time.

“We are always seeking to get additional reserves,” Williams said.

Winthrop has a closed-door policy right now based on guidance of health care authorities.

“That has worked well for us. We have had no (COVID-19) cases among our employees or any of our residents,” Williams said.

Looking to the future, Williams said the COVID-19 situation will change the way his company prepares for this kind of outbreak.

“It will change the way that we handle our supplies; it has increased our awareness of best practices in how we respond to a situation like this,” Williams said. “Our frontline staff has been remarkable with their response, demonstrating an incredible level of courage, strength and great human spirit.”

Plans are in the works to initiate a Friday night concert series in the courtyard of Winthrop Court. The executive director, Shane Rehberg, is an accomplished musician and will lead the series. Residents will be able to come out on their porches and enjoy the music while practicing social distancing.

“We’re also going to provide a Sunday morning worship service in the courtyard to maintain social distancing,” Williams said. “We’re trying to be as creative as we can to promote the health and well-being of our residents.”

Legacy Senior Living has owned the 109-unit Renaissance Marquis for about 15 years. The company, which owns senior living centers from Arkansas to Virginia, has tapped into its network to make sure staff in each of its 14 centers has a sufficient supply of protective equipment.

“This means going out of our way to provide our team members with the tools and support they need — safeguarding their physical and spiritual well-being,” said co-founder and president Bryan Cook. “They are caring for our seniors in an unprecedented, challenging time.”

Legacy started purchasing personal protection equipment on March 3 and has continued to work with multiple vendors to access necessary gear. It has also reached out to a volunteer network of families, faith-based groups and others who are hand-sewing masks to provide additional protection.

“At the end of the day, we’re in the business of taking care of people. Our team members are our family too, and they are the ones on the front line caring for residents,” co-founder and CEO Barry Ray said. “Our mission to serve means that we must be fully prepared so that our team has ample support, and everything they need.”

Like Winthrop, the Renaissance Marquis had not reported any issues with COVID-19 through the deadline for this report.

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