A handful of men and women were playing dominoes in the area just off the front lobby of Countrywood Manor Assisted Living Facility in Mantachie. They were getting kind of rowdy, talking and laughing loudly and lightly picking on each other as they played.
Co-owner Ken Long shook his head and smiled.
“This is never a dull business,” he said. “People who think senior adults are ever dull need to come walk with me for a day.”
Long and his business partners Larry Todd and Gene McDade have owned and operated Countrywood Manor since 2012, purchasing the then 12-year-old business — originally Countrywood Plantation — from its second set of owners. Both Long and, especially, Todd were familiar with long-term care facilities and felt like they could use their experience to reshape the facility.
“We like coming to aging facilities and rehabbing them,” Long explained. More than just improving the cosmetics, Long said they try to completely rework the background operations in these facilities, adding modernized conveniences like computerized patient records, electronic payroll, closed circuit televisions and more.
“It’s a lot of stuff you don’t necessarily see, but it all makes everything easier for the staff,” he explained.
The company has done this for three facilities, all of which fall under the umbrella of their company, Agape Senior Living: Countrywood in Mantachie, Oak Tree Manor in Amory and Church Street Personal Care Home in Ecru.
The Mantachie facility currently has 32 rooms with 38 patients in house. If pressed, the facility could house more than 40 residents, although Long said he doesn’t expect the occupancy to ever get that high. Right now, the place is basically at capacity.
Currently, the company is in the process of having a 16-room Alzheimer’s wing added onto the facility. Once construction is completed in the spring, it will be the first of its kind in Northeast Mississippi, Long said.
“There’s a huge need for something like this,” he said, adding that Alzheimer’s patients often demand near-constant care, something many facilities simply can’t provide.
“A licensed Alzheimer’s unit tailors everything to the disease,” Long said.
Long, who has worked in assisted living in some capacity since 1999, said there’s no other business like it. An assisted living home often involves a lot of long-term care, he said, giving the staff plenty of time to form personal bonds with the residents. Which is good, because they do a little bit of everything: paperwork, mop floors, fix food, lead programs and, sometimes, wipe bottoms.
“It’s not an easy business,” Long said. “It can be the most frustrating business in the world. But do it right, and it’s also the most rewarding.”
He wasn’t talking about money.
“We’re a family here, all of us,” Long said. “Those people there …”
He motioned toward the residents playing dominoes.
“…They’re your family, too,” he continued. “If you care about your patients and put them first, you’re a good facility. If the owner or the staff puts anything else first, that will come across and the business won’t do well.”
Long said it happens more often than he’d like to think.
“A lot of people start off with good intentions but then lose focus of their goals,” he said. “You can’t lose focus.”
That goal, he said, should always be people. In the most literal way imaginable, Long’s business is people, and it’s important to never see the business as anything else.
“We’re here to give those seniors the quality of life they might not get at home,” Long said, eyes returning to the dominoes game. A lukewarm, if not jovial, debate had broken out among the players, and Long laughed gently. “We try to give them a reason to keep living … even if it is just to squabble over a game of dominoes.”
Owners: Ken Long, Larry Todd and Gene McDade
Address: 145 Watson Drive, Mantachie
In business since: 2000
Number of employees: 26
Primary business: Licensed assisted living facility. The facility offers three meals a day, housekeeping, laundry and an on-duty nurse 12 hours each day to help with medication and other patient needs.