LAKE PARK – Georgia Baptists’ southernmost retirement community will close its doors next Tuesday due to declining occupancy.
The July 31 shuttering of the personal care facility, just 5 miles from the Florida state line, brings to a close a 22-year presence in the community. Eric Mathison, vice president of Baptist Village Retirement Communities, said residents were given 60 days notice, double what was required by law.
He noted that all 14 residents have found other living arrangements around Lowndes County. The facility, which was acquired in 1996, was licensed for 40 beds but never reached full occupancy. It is located off of I-75, south of Valdosta.
Personal care facilities like Lake Park offer more affordable living arrangements just below assisted living for those with less demanding medical needs.The location was a popular option for senior citizens during its two decades but anticipated population growth never materialized.
“It fell victim to the old adage about location, location, location,” Mathison explained. The town of Lake Park has less than a thousand residents and due to the facility’s location – hidden as it were behind Francis Lake Baptist Church – it never had the visibility of those driving by.
When Baptist Village purchased the property in the mid-90s the real estate market looked considerably more upbeat. A larger outlet mall opened nearby on I-75 with designer names and attracted a considerable number of shoppers. A doctor’s building soon joined the mix and it appeared that future growth was headed to the area.
But development stalled with the Great Recession and growth, when it returnd, headed north. The mall closed and the doctors moved to Valdosta.
The personal care options for those in Valdosta also further complicated Lake Park’s viability. Without population growth the small community could not support the facility. And, it made little sense for senior adults living in Valdosta to ignore other options near their family to relocate to Lake Park.
“We do not regret anything about our presence and ministry to the fine people in Lake Park,” Mathison explained. “This is just the natural closing of a 22 year ministry that could no longer be supported.”
Baptist Village was founded in Waycross in April 1958 with 5 residents. Its website lists other locations in Waycross where its corporate offices are located, as well as Macon. Those ministries continue to be strong; its main campus in Waycross is always full and its Macon campus has a waiting list for its 50-bed facility.
Mathison said that Francis Lake Baptist Church in Lake Park has voted to purchase the property but the sale has not been finalized. Eldridge Lyons, who has served as pastor of the church for more than 4 decades, could not be reached for comment.
Last July The Index reported that Baptist Village received a coveted – and very difficult to obtain – zero deficiency rating through a federal agency which inspects nursing homes receiving funds through Medicaid and Medicare. While state inspections occur annually, years may pass between those of the federal variety. The last federal inspection Baptist Village experienced came 30 years ago, said Mathison.
“You don’t get advance notice,” he added. “We basically prepare every day for an inspection.”
The ministry received a zero deficiency rating from the state three years ago, a figure Mathison estimates only seven percent of nursing homes – most with fewer patients – achieve. Facilities don’t know an inspection is about to happen until inspectors stand in the lobby. And while the state conducts its every year, federal inspections can, apparently, go decades between visits.
“In all honesty, [inspectors] are here to make sure we’re doing what we’re suppose to do,” said Mathison. “They’re here to make things the best for these residents we’re serving.