Grady County Delivers Health & Wellness Impact Through UGA Partnership

Ray Parry, Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Monday, June 10th, 2024

When Marie Johnson needed long-term care, she had to leave her hometown of Cairo. Now, there’s a facility right down the street from her family that can provide this care thanks, in part, to a long-term relationship with the University of Georgia.

Since 2011, Grady County has been connected to the University of Georgia, completing more than 150 projects during that time. Recently, the county received the UGA Connected Resilient Community (CRC) designation for completing a series of health and wellness projects with assistance from UGA. One of those supported the opening of Archbold Living-Cairo. The 66,000-square-foot long-term care facility, which is part of the Archbold healthcare system and connected to Archbold Grady in Cairo, allows residents to receive the care they need without leaving their community.

“Having this facility here means we can keep Grady County residents like Marie Johnson in Grady County,” said Dori Griffin, director of nursing at Archbold Grady. “Prior to this facility, a lot of our residents were undergoing care in the surrounding counties. Being able to bring those residents home and continue to offer the level of care they deserve in the years to come is a great thing for our community.”

Archbold Living-Cairo represents a $25 million investment in Grady County. It offers rehabilitation services, skilled nursing services, wound care and medical care, with Tina Bates serving as administrator and Felicia Stoddard serving as director of nursing. The facility welcomed its first residents in December and had 25 by the first week of March.

Johnson was in a nursing home in Bainbridge—about 24 miles west of Cairo—before coming to Archbold Living-Cairo in January. Her daughters, Lacy Polk and Nicole Barrett, would drive every day from Cairo to Bainbridge to see Johnson. Polk traveled from her job in Thomasville to Bainbridge and then back to Cairo—adding another 15 miles. Polk and Barrett each have young families and the travel was grueling, but it was important for them to spend time with their mom. With the strain of those days behind them, Polk and Barrett can focus more on family time—at home and with Johnson.

“The opening of Archbold Living-Cairo has been a huge blessing to our family,” Polk said. “There are so many places for families to gather with their loved ones when they visit. Grady County is so fortunate to have this facility right here in our community.”

Archbold Living-Cairo had several touchpoints with UGA throughout its development. As a UGA Archway Partnership™ community, a faculty member connected Cairo to campus resources. Through Archway, in 2016, UGA College of Engineering students, under the direction of professor Stephan Durham, completed their capstone projects by working with hospital administration and county officials to develop a site plan. The students produced a building and site layout; stormwater management plan; grading plan; erosion control plan; utility connection plan; and cost estimate.

Durham estimates the site plan work would cost between $10,000 and $20,000 today. The work was instrumental in helping Grady County earn its state Certificate of Need, providing a critical point in moving the project from an idea to fruition. Archway faculty provided grant-writing assistance and support throughout the project. Most recently, the UGA CRC project helped to facilitate the opening of Archbold Living-Grady’s doors.

“To see the community build this amazing facility that’s going to help support their citizens brings such great joy to me, and I’m proud knowing that UGA and the College of Engineering were a part of it,” said Durham.

For Crystal Wells, administrator of Archbold Grady hospital, the long-term care facility is another example of how the county’s relationship with UGA has had a positive impact on the community—and beyond.

“Our partnership with UGA helped us bring in resources that otherwise we wouldn’t have,” said Wells. “Being a rural community, resources are not as readily available to us, so we have to be very creative in securing those resources. Then we look at identifying the top needs of our community and figure out how we can get those resources to residents or make it easy for them to receive those resources. So that’s really the challenge, and that’s where UGA really made a difference for us.”

The UGA CRC designation is another way to attract those resources. Facilitated by the Archway Partnership, the designation shows economic developers that communities are collaborative, forward-thinking and resourceful in addressing their greatest challenges.

Grady County received the CRC designation this spring. Its other projects included collaborating with the UGA Cognitive Aging and Research Education (CARE) Center on Alzheimer’s and dementia brain health workshops and new Memory Care Corner at Roddenbery Memorial Library. The county also worked with UGA to develop health and wellness workforce recruitment and retention programs for certified nursing assistants with local education partners including Grady County Schools, Southern Regional Technical College and Thomas University.

The relationship with UGA extends well beyond health care. Grady County is also part of UGA’s award-winning PROPEL (Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership) program, facilitated by the UGA Institute of Government. The two-year program focuses on assessing needs, building community leadership, designing a realistic plan to foster economic growth, and then working alongside community leaders as they implement the plan.

“I think the work the University of Georgia is doing in rural Georgia is phenomenal,” said Griffin. “Until I got into this role, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of UGA’s resources and what a difference it’s making in rural Georgia… not just in south Georgia but all over Georgia.”