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Nursing Care Week made special in Jones County

    Lynn Haven resident Mrs. Lucile Brickle enjoys petting one of the horses in the May 14 parade. Allison Altman (far right) was one of the horse owners riding in the parade with Joe and Adrian Cook. DEBBIE LURIE-SMITH/Staff
    Lynn Haven Parade Grand Marshal Audrey Gray (below)helped greet participants in the May 14 Celebration of Nursing Home Week. Photos by DEBBIE LURIE-SMITH / Staff
    George Hunt Sr., 101, (below) was the grand marshal of the Autumn Lane Parade celebrating National Nursing Home week. Hunt said he looks forward to repeating his reign as grand marshal next year. Photos by DEBBIE LURIE-SMITH / Staff

Jones County had not one but two parades last week to celebrate its nursing care facilities as part of National Skilled Nursing Home Week.

The parades were held May 14 at Lynn Haven and Autumn Lane. The turnout from local businesses and organizations, law enforcement and the community was amazing, and the parades went on and on with no end in sight.

The Jones County Sheriff Department’s MRAP decked out in red, white and blue and American Flags was the grand finale for both parades.

Established by the American Health Care Association in 1967, National Skilled Nursing Care Week recognizes the essential role of skilled nursing care centers in caring for America’s frail, elderly and disabled. This year it seemed more important than ever to celebrate the event and recognize the staff and residents in Jones County nursing care facilities.

Current social distancing rules and the inability of friends and family to enter the buildings has changed much of the day-to-day life of the staff and the residents, and no one knows how long this is going to continue.

It is important to note that Jones County has had zero positive COVID-19 cases in any of its nursing care facilities, and that is no accident. It is certain that the administration and staff in these facilities are playing a critical role in caring for residents and saving lives, and that deserves to be honored and celebrated.

Vehicles in the May 14 parades included many family members hoping to get a glimpse of their loved ones who are residents of the facilities. The Lynn Haven parade staged at the Government Center, and the Autumn Lane parade at Gray Station Middle School.

Each parade had its own grand marshal.

The parades were planned by Lynn Haven Administrator Leslie Coleman and Autumn Lane Administrator Chap Nelson.

Coleman said their Grand Marshal was Audrey Gray. She said Gray is 99 and has been a resident at Lynn Haven since October of 2018.

“Her great niece is our Rehabilitation Director Christy Grimsley. Christy calls her Aunt Audrey, so now we all affectionately call her Aunt Audrey,” Coleman said.

The administrator said Gray is proud of her age and was very pleased to be asked to be the parade’s grand marshal. Coleman said, after the parade was over, Gray told her she had a wonderful time, and she didn’t think it could have turned out better.

Autumn Lane’s Grand Marshall was George Hunt Sr., who is 101. Hunt has lived at Autumn Lane since October of 2019. During the parade, Hunt told Nelson that participating in the parade was, “Near the top of the mountain for him and to save his costume for next year.”

Coleman said Nelson made the arrangements with the City of Gray and made a few calls to people he knew, and the idea caught on like wildfire.

“We both sent invitations and called our families to invite them to attend. The other attendees were just good town folks with a big heart,” she said.

Coleman said the pandemic has changed many things for so many people and has brought new challenges, worries and unfortunately the negative light by which nursing homes are sometimes viewed.

“As Aunt Audrey and I were sitting at the top of the driveway, waiting for the start, I could see the whole nursing home, our residents and our team. It was a special moment of personal and professional perspective,” she said. “And when that long, slow moving procession, led by those flashing blue lights and sirens rounded the corner by Miriam Land’s house, I lost it, and from what I hear, so did our team.

“The closer they got, the faster my heart was beating, and the more palpable the feeling of love became. I felt proud and honored that our community and the families of our patients were on their way, coming to see us.”

The administrator said that pride turned to pure joy and excitement as, one by one for miles, the Gray Police Department, Jones County Sheriff’s Department, fire trucks, EMA vehicles, ambulances, county and school officials, a school bus, Tri-County bucket trucks, horse riders bearing the American flag, Jones County Cruisers, motorcycles, a trailer pulling wooden Ray Charles with baby grand piano and man-sized catfish on a flat bed, Adams tow truck, friends, volunteers of the facilities and the families of our patients pulled into and paraded through our parking lot.

“We loved the honking as tears flowed with shouts of, ‘I Love You’, ‘I Miss You,’ filling the air and their vehicles decorated with signs of love. It was something like we have never seen before,” Coleman said.

She said she and Aunt Audrey waved their pom-poms, thanking each attendee for coming.

The administrator said, as she watched the vehicles pull out of their driveway and head to Autumn Lane to begin the next parade, her heart broke for the families who had waited 10 long weeks to see their loved ones. “That quick glimpse,

“That quick glimpse, although priceless, I know was not enough for them. I thought of the longing, heartache and worry they must be feeling and the pain of having to drive back home hoping and praying for the day when they get to touch and hug their loved one again,” she said. “It is a blessing and an honor to help take care of a family treasure, and that’s what we do at these nursing homes.”

Coleman said the administrators and staff at both facilities cannot thank everyone who participated in the parades enough.

“Chap and I later agreed, it was one of our most favorite days at work and the sentiment is echoed from all of our teammate associates,” she said.

Coleman and Nelson are both long-term care nurses, as well as nursing home administrators. She said on behalf of all of the associates at both centers, they realize that when most people come to their facilities, it is usually somewhere they did not think they would be moving to and do not necessarily want to be.

“But last Thursday was different,” Coleman said. “Because May 14th, here in Jones County, Lynn Haven and Autumn Lane were the places to be.”