Top Rating Confirms What Retirement Home Residents Knew
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2008 Nearly 100 Armed Forces Retirement Home residents attending a Navy birthday observance were lauded as heroes during a ceremony yesterday that underscored what makes the home stand apart from – and as a new accreditation shows, above – most other retirement facilities.
The Sherman Building is among the historic buildings at the sprawling Armed Forces Retirement Home in the heart of the nation’s capital, which has housed four U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, since it opened in 1851. DoD photo by Sheila Abarr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Thank you for all you have done to preserve our freedoms, and for doing it with honor, courage and commitment,” Navy Capt. Timothy R. Fox, commander of Navy District Washington Reserve Component Command, told the group, mostly Navy retirees and veterans. “Thank you for being our heroes.”
Pasquale Giudice, a retired Navy senior chief petty officer who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, rolled his wheelchair to a front-row spot in the auditorium to take part in the commemoration. A few rows back sat retired Chief Petty Officer Hugh Wingo, whose ship delivered Lt. Col. James Doolittle and his crew within range of Tokyo so they could launch the Doolittle Raid in 1942.
They joined with the other residents, singing the Navy song and clapping as 91-year-old Marian Ritchie, the second-oldest Navy veteran at the home, accepted the honor of cutting the Navy birthday cake.
Since 1851, the Armed Forces Retirement Home has offered a premier retirement community for military retirees and qualified veterans. The historic home in the heart of the nation’s capital has housed four U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln. A second campus, in Gulfport, Miss., was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and is being rebuilt. It’s slated to reopen in 2010.
The facilities operated separately for many years until Congress passed a law in the early 1990s combining them into the Armed Forces Retirement Home. They’re operated as an independent federal agency funded by a permanent trust made in part from a 50-cent-a-month payroll deduction from active-duty troops.
Many of the residents, like Giudice, said they were attracted to the AFRH by the first-class care and services it offers, but also by the opportunity to bond with fellow veterans.
“We share sea stories, talking about where we’ve been and what we’ve done,” he said. “We all have one thing in common, and that’s what brings us together.”
AFRH Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cox cited a long list of programs and initiatives to ensure 1,100 residents now at the Washington campus get the quality care and services they deserve. “We’ve raised the bar, because we are treating the nation’s heroes, and that means we have to do the very best we can,” he said.
Findings of the prestigious Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities’ Continuing Care Accreditation Committee show the effort is paying off. The independent accrediting body conducted a five-day, on-site survey in August, and announced earlier this week that it had awarded the Armed Forces Retirement Home its highest-level rating.
“It’s a piece of paper that grades us on how we are doing … in comparison to other homes in America,” said David Watkins, director of the Washington campus. “And we’re in the top!”
Cox called the rating a huge achievement, particularly because it was awarded by retirement housing industry leaders. “A peer review is so tantamount to making sure we are doing the best we can for the people we serve,” he said.
But ask the residents themselves, and they’ll tell you they already knew what the accreditation officials made official.
“This is a nice, comfortable atmosphere, and the care we receive here is top-rate,” said Eska McConnell, a retired Army sergeant first class who moved to the AFRH four years ago and now serves as president of its Resident Advisory Council. McConnell called the staff the key to the home’s success.
“I see it day in and day out, and the staff here really cares about what happens to people,” he said. “It’s really neat, and I’ll tell you, I do not intend to leave here, ever.”
“This is a wonderful place,” agreed Marie Townsend, a Navy veteran who became the first woman vocalist assigned to the Navy Band in 1945. “They do so much here – trips, concerts, shows and other activities. … And our food is like the Country Buffet!”
Moving from a five-bedroom house into a tiny room at the AFRH wasn’t easy, Townsend conceded. But rather than getting rid of the things she loved, including her Shirley Temple doll collection, she saved just one or two of each to bring to her new home.
Cox said he feared the small rooms at the Washington campus would be considered a drawback when the accrediting committee toured the facility. But the goal, he said, isn’t to keep people comfortably cooped up in apartments; it’s to encourage them to get out and mingle in the facility’s common areas that include a bowling alley, a nine-hole golf course, a wellness center and a library.
“The main living space is all of our common areas,” Cox said. “All of the space is theirs, and we want them to use it.”
Ritchie is among several hundred AFRH residents who lived at the former U.S. Naval Home in Gulfport before it fell victim to Hurricane Katrina’s surge waters. She remembered arriving at that facility less than a year after her husband died, wanting more than what she had at her empty house in California.
“What I found here is camaraderie. We’re all one family,” Ritchie said of the AFRH and its residents. “My life is here. It’s not back in California any more. I go to bed at night and say ‘thank you.’”
But as active as she is at the Washington campus, Ritchie said, she has every intention of returning to Gulfport when it opens. “I’m going to be on the front bus,” she said.
Wingo had been preparing to move into the Gulfport facility when Katrina hit, and he said he hopes to move there when it reopens to be closer to his family. But in the meantime, he said, he’s taking advantage of all the Washington campus has to offer, and knows he made the right decision when he moved to the AFRH.
“You seldom hear a negative here about anything,” he said. “I found a home here. I’m happy.”