Woman’s home closing

Governing board gives staff, residents a year to prepare

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Helen Ridgway, 93, sits on the sun porch next to her bedroom in the Woman’s Home in Marietta Monday, counting the cars as they go by on Third Street.

After 132 years the final days of the Woman’s Home in Marietta are numbered.

“This is a very sad day for the home,” said Debbie Stengel, manager of the residential care facility, who has worked at the 812 Third St. site for 27 years. “To know my little ladies will have to live somewhere else –it breaks me.”

Though the doors of the home will not close until June 30, 2018, the home’s board made the announcement to staff and residents Monday, giving a year for all to find other arrangements.

“We don’t want the public to think we’re closing for regulatory concerns,” said Mary Antons, board chairwoman. “We are in good standing with all of our regulatory agencies.”

But the cost to operate has increased over the years and Antons explained to staff Monday morning that operationally, the home was no longer sustainable without depleting the facility’s endowment.

“Not only would you have to be at full bed capacity 100 percent of the time, but you’d have to double rent to make operations sustainable,” explained Rebekah Mathis-Stump, a strategic planner the board hired to help them transition the home and get the facility ready for sale. “That’s not what the purpose of this home was.”

Currently operating expenses for the home hover between $40,000 and approximately $50,000 per month. Last month the cost to keep the doors open was $58,000 and the average cost each year to maintain operations is more than $500,000.

“That covers utilities, payroll, food, supplies, licensing fees and elevator maintenance and repairs to name a few,” explained Antons. “Payroll is our biggest expense.”

But the additional cost of nursing staff, and higher utility expenses and licensing fees have caused half of the monthly budget to be pulled from the home’s endowment, Antons explained.

“It was projected by the bank when I came on the board in 2012 that we would be out of money by 2020,” she told staff. “Though this is coming before that, we will have closing expenses to pay too and we wanted to take care of our staff and incentivize them to remain through the year.”

Stengel added that while fundraisers and donations always help, often grants and donations have strings attached guiding those monies to specific projects rather than use for operational costs. She also explained that a donation of $1 million would only sustain the home for another three to four years.

The home opened in 1885 under the guidance of Catherine Ewing and the donation of two plots of land on Third Street by Douglas Putnam and M.P. Wells. It survived solely on private donations for years along with the management of residents’ assets.

“In 1885 everything was donated,” Antons told the staff, blinking back tears. “And that’s been this community throughout the years, with organizations and people always willing to give.”

In the Centennial Souvenir, published in 1887 by the Library of Congress to commemorate the first settlement in the west, the Woman’s Home is described as a refuge, “a grand retreat from poverty and want for deserving women who have a spent a life of hard work, but through no fault of their own, now need the help of the charitable.”

And it has continued that legacy for more than a century, with residents lounging on the front porch together, sharing meals and laughter along with stories of their lives.

“I love playing bingo and dominos,” said Helen Ridgway, a 93-year-old resident. “I live upstairs next to the sunroom all the way in the front.”

Debbie Wells, 61, of Marietta, said she didn’t know when her family would break the news that Ridgway would need to move, though both were present for the announcement at the home Monday, because change while living with dementia is difficult.

“Change is hard already for her and she loves it here…this is her home,” said Wells. “But I’m grateful we have a year as a family to figure this out rather than it just being on me or my husband, who’s her nephew.”

Wells said with a monthly room and board of $2,250 per month, she wasn’t sure where else in town would be comparable in price with the same level of care her husband’s aunt receives. Many of the residents have their rent supplemented by the facility.

“Her favorite place is that sunroom where she just watches the cars go by,” said Wells. “It’s always eased our minds knowing she was happy here and we could visit a few times a week.”

Residents and their families were counseled Monday to not rush to any decisions just yet, and were told that the home would be fully staffed through next year to keep their loved ones comfortable.

“It’s like taking care of grandma, but I have nine grandmas in this building,” said Stengel. “I’ve learned from these women and heard the most wonderful history of their lives from stories about the depression, war times, to how they celebrated a birthday or went to church.”

Cheryl Hall, 58, of Lowell, has worked for the home for the past year as an aid and said she has loved every day of it.

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done coming to work here,” she said. “It’s been terrific growing close to the residents and spending time with them.”

Hall said she plans to stay for the year and awaits the private meetings each staff member was offered to discuss bonuses and aid in job placement after June 2018.

“I had a feeling this was coming but I’ll be here, I’ve never thought of leaving,” she said. “There’s something special when you’re with these women, getting them up and ready in the mornings, talking with them, it’s hard to describe.”

With 11 staff and nine residents the facility houses those ages 80 to 98 who spend their days together. Antons said she always feels at peace when she walks in the home’s doors and hopes a hospice company will be interested in purchasing the building.

“No matter what time you come in you can always smell food cooking,” she said. “It’s home for these ladies.”

At a glance

¯ The Woman’s Home, 812 Third St., Marietta, will be closing within the year.

¯ Board members of the facility announced the closing Monday.

¯ The home has served as a residence for local elderly women for the past 132 years.

¯ The facility currently employs 11 staffers and is home to nine residents.

Source: Mary Antons, board chairwoman of the Woman’s Home.